British police evacuated a Yorkshire neighborhood after discovering a sizable collection of World War II-era and other weapons in the small town of Penistone. More than 100 homes were evacuated for fears of gas shells and other dangers.
The cache included shells, grenades and ammunition as well as handguns, rifles, machine guns and submachine guns. It also included knives, bayonets and brass knuckles, all relics from the war. Police say every room in the house was filled by the collection, with arms on display and in heaps.
It turned out that the collection was owned by a resident of Penistone, Martin Johnson. Police found the cache after Johnson died at 51. According to investigators, Johnson died of natural causes.
“There was a whole house full of stuff,” said lead investigator Andy Hodgkinson to the Daily Mail. “Munitions, firearms, shells and grenades.”
“The occupant of the house had clearly been collecting these things for an entire lifetime,” he said. “This was definitely a lifetime collection.”
Police drew a half-mile circle around the house and evacuated the area due to the dangers of unexploded ordnance. The town council put the evacuees up at a local hotel.
“I was coming back from town on the bus and as I went past I could see all my road is blocked off,” said Jade Dennis. Dennis and her family were among the residents who had to evacuate their homes.
“I was told there were bombs on the street but I didn’t believe them because Penistone is such a small town,” she said. “It’s a bit of a shock. You just don’t know what people have got in their homes.”
Police did find some unexploded ordnance in Johnson’s collections. The police ordered it to be destroyed in a controlled explosion.
Though the police are acting as a precaution, Johnson’s family has asked police to wrap up their investigation and return the rest of the collection as soon as possible.
“It is legal to keep such items but they have to be certified as safe,” said Hodgkinson. “There are some very valuable items in the house. We are now working with the family because they are keen to get some of the items back to them.”
“But we can obviously only do that when we know they are safe for definite,” he said. “One of our first main concerns was that some of the mortar shells indicated that they might contain chemicals like mustard gas.”
Unexploded ordnance is very unstable and bombs and chemical weapons dating back to World War I continue to endanger people to this day. Every year unexploded ordnance kills 15,000 people or more, and while it’s uncommon, it sometimes turns up in personal collections.