Five jailed over theft of 40 anti-tank mines in Warrington

Men jailed after mines stolen The five men received sentences of between five and seven-and-a-half years

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Five men have been jailed over the theft of 40 anti-tank mines from a Ministry of Defence freight train.

The mines were stolen when a goods train stopped at a red light just outside Warrington in October.

Liverpool Crown Court heard the gang could have sold the mines, which contained more than 8kg (17lb) of explosives, to terrorists.

They received sentences of between five and seven-and-a-half years. A warrant has been issued for a sixth man.

The theft of the anti-tank mines led to a major investigation by anti-terror police and the army.

'Considerable risk'

The court heard the thieves' intended target had been a nearby Asda depot, and the theft of the mines was "opportunistic".

The prosecution said the gang had cut up the explosives with a saw, causing considerable risk to public safety.

Leonard Ash, 50, of Beckwith Street, Birkenhead, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years after being found guilty of handling stolen goods, possessing explosives and possession of a weapon. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Munitions stolen Most of the mines were found near the railway

Phillip Yates, 29, of Church Street, Birkenhead, was jailed for seven years and three months after admitting theft, possessing explosives and damage to property.

Kris Keith Black, 23, of Woodchurch Road, Birkenhead, was jailed for five years and seven months after pleading guilty to theft and possessing explosives.

Jason McKee 27, of Valley Road, Bromborough, was jailed for seven years and four months handling stolen goods and possessing explosives and a weapon.

He originally denied all the charges but admitted possession of a weapon.

'Atmosphere of panic'

Michael David Arthur Hellon 31, of Hadfield Close, Sheffield, was jailed for five years for handling stolen goods and possessing explosives. He denied both charges but was found guilty after a trial.

Greater Manchester Police said David Ian Smith, 30, of Boothwood Close, Liverpool, failed to attend court and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Smith had pleaded guilty to theft and possessing explosives under the Explosive Substances Act, 1883.

The gang intended to sell the mines for profit, but the court heard that there was "an atmosphere of panic" when they realised what they had stolen.

Most of the mines were recovered from undergrowth near the railway but others were found in woods in Wirral and one was found in a garage in a built-up area in Birkenhead.

The freight train was on its way from a munitions store in Cumbria to Oxfordshire. The mines were then due to be sent overseas.

The court heard the mines are used to blow up enemy compounds in Afghanistan.

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