Two litter pickers unwittingly drove half a mile home with a live first world war bomb in the car as their weekly good deed turned into a scene from a Hollywood thriller.
Rachel Wills and Simon Briscombe thought they had found an old gas canister while they were collecting rubbish from the River Nidd in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, on Monday.
They drove half a mile home, jolting over speed bumps, as the muddy item bounced around on a car seat next to them.
It was only when they “scraped the gunk” off, they said, that they realised they had found an explosive – prompting a rather frantic call to the bomb squad.
There was then a nail-biting wait for the emergency services. “It was frothing, the shell was bubbling. It was strange and frightening,” Wills said.
The emergency services evacuated the couple’s home along with about 30 others on the estate. A 100-metre cordon was put in place while an army explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team attended to retrieve the device for it to be detonated safely.
Wills said it was the first time the army had been called out to deal with the couple’s weekly litter picks. “We’ve found some really strange things, including a sewing machine from 1898, trolleys, money, shoes, all sorts,” she said. “But I can’t believe we found what we found and it was live. We had it in our car, a live bomb, and we were driving over speed bumps too.”
She said she thought recent floods had dislodged the bomb and brought it to the surface, and it was “so lucky children didn’t find it”.
The incident led to the closure of the busy A59 for two hours, and police have since thanked the public for remaining calm while the device was dealt with.
Wills, a cafe owner, said she had been “tired, shocked and teary” since seeing the bomb explode, adding: “We had a narrow escape.”
She told the BBC: “Imagine if children had found it, picked it up and thrown it about. It’s unthinkable.”
Police said anyone who finds what could be a bomb should leave it in place without touching it, move 50 metres away and contact 101.
North Yorkshire police said: “Thankfully, the EOD were able to dispose of the object, and the incident was brought to a safe conclusion. Thank you to residents in the local area for their patience whilst we dealt with the incident.”