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Man held over wartime firearms find

Police have arrested a man after raiding a house and finding firearms and ammunition from the two world wars.

The 48-year-old was held after officers went to an address in Windmill Avenue, St Albans, Hertfordshire, at 8am today.

They were executing a search warrant in connection with the theft of heritage artefacts and munitions from the two wars, Hertfordshire Police said.

A 48-year-old local man has been arrested on suspicion of theft from heritage and protected sites and is in custody for questioning.

A spokesman said police had found a number of items including firearms and ammunition and these are all historic, believed to be from the wars.

He added: "Currently the Army is establishing the safety of those items and carrying out a series of checks, which will take some time.

"As a safety precaution, Windmill Avenue is closed to vehicles from the junction with Chiltern Road and four homes, either side of the property, have been evacuated. The occupants have gone to stay with relatives.

"Currently, there is no danger to members of the public."

Police said the w arrant was executed to target the alleged theft of heritage artefacts and munitions through illegal metal detecting.

Items seized included hand grenades, rifles, a number of mortar shells, flare guns, hand guns, ammunition, and a large collection of wartime memorabilia, which appears to have been excavated.

A spokesman said: "It is alleged that the arrested man obtained these artefacts through illegal metal detecting, which is a heritage crime. It is a criminal offence to retrieve artefacts from the ground through using a metal detector if the land is a protected site or without permission of the landowner."

Chief Inspector Ken Townsend said: "This seizure is on an unprecedented scale and it will be a long process. It is an extremely large collection. Although the items seized today are potentially dangerous, there is no danger to members of the public. We have all the necessary experts in place to deal safely with the items recovered."

He said controlled detonations would be carried out. These would be heard in the local area, but residents should not be alarmed.

Police worked closely in the investigation with English Heritage, whose national policing and crime adviser Mark Harrison said: "The practice of illegal metal detecting or stealing artefacts from the ground, particularly from conflict sites relating to the First and Second World Wars, is an issue that English Heritage takes very seriously.

"We recognise that the majority of the metal-detecting community comply with the laws and regulations relating to the discovery and recovery of objects from the land. This operation sends out a clear message that we are prepared to take action and do what is necessary, including working alongside the police, to bring those responsible to justice.

"This is the first time that a co-ordinated partnership involving the military, police investigators, finds experts, archaeologists and prosecutors have been used to tackle this form of criminal activity."

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