Lincolnshire

Trio who dumped mustard gas in Woodhall Spa lake sentenced

Left to right: Stuart Holmes, Michaela Tasker and Martyn Tasker Image copyright PA Media
Image caption (L-R): Stuart Holmes, Michaela Tasker and Martyn Tasker all pleaded guilty to possessing mustard gas

A man who dumped mustard gas in a lake has been jailed for 16 months for possessing a chemical weapon.

Martyn Tasker discovered the abandoned canisters on former Ministry of Defence land near Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire in October 2017.

His wife Michaela and friend Stuart Holmes were given 12-month suspended sentences after admitting helping him.

At Nottingham Crown Court, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said Tasker had shown a "flagrant disregard for the law".

The 40-year-old military enthusiast was also jailed for five years after he admitted possessing two Bren light machine guns.

The Environment Agency said the "feckless" trio were the first to be charged with possessing a chemical weapon in the country.

Police declared a major incident after about 150 canisters of the noxious gas were discovered on the former military site.

Specialists from Porton Down were brought in and the area was sealed off for a fortnight, with the clean-up operation costing almost £300,000.

The trio were arrested after the Taskers sought medical help for arm blisters and difficulty breathing following their find in Roughton Woods near Woodhall Spa.

The court heard Michaela Tasker, 32, collapsed in a GP's waiting room due to respiratory difficulties.

Image copyright Lincolnshire Police
Image caption About 150 mustard gas canisters were found in woodland and in a lake near Woodhall Spa

Holmes, of Witham Road in Woodhall Spa, and Martyn and Michaela Tasker, of Longdales Road in Lincoln, also admitted breaching environmental laws by discharging the illegal substance in nearby Stixwould Lake.

Holmes, 51, admitted a further charge of disposing of mustard gas in a manner likely to cause pollution to the environment or harm to public health.

Mustard gas was used as a weapon during World War One but was outlawed by the Geneva Protocol of 1925.

The military shut down RAF Woodhall Spa, which had been a satellite of the main RAF Coningsby site, in the mid-1960s.

Correction 15 June 2020: This story has been changed to clarify that Martyn Tasker was jailed for 16 months for possessing a chemical weapon to run concurrently with his five-year sentence for possessing firearms.

Image copyright Royal Navy
Image caption Military experts had to be called to remove the canisters from a lake

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