Public warned to steer clear of Woodhall Spa woods

Residents who packed into the Petwood Hotel last Thursday to listen to  reassurances about the mustard gas
Residents who packed into the Petwood Hotel last Thursday to listen to reassurances about the mustard gas

Members of the public have been warned to stay away from woods near Woodhall Spa which are at the centre of a major chemical weapons incident.

Police and the Army have completed an extensive search of Roughton Moor Woods off Kirkby Lane - lasting almost two weeks.

Police revealed they discovered 14o canisters of mustard gas , apparently stored in 14 boxes.

In addition, another 10 canisters - and a box - were found in the nearby village of Stixwould after a search involving multi agencies including Royal Navy divers and specialist sonar equipment.

That second search has also been completed.

East Lindsey District Council has now taken over the site at Roughton Moor Woods.

In a statement, the council said: “The community is asked to avoid the woodland area concerned, and it remains cordoned off at this time.

“There is still a need for the area where the ammunition was found to be fully decontaminate although the items found on site have been safely removed.

“The site is safe - if left undisturbed - but an area will be fenced off (with a security presence) for a period of time whilst site surveys and decontamination takes place.

“Don’t be concerned by this. We will only be fencing a relatively small area.”

The council - and police - are not saying when the woods will be fully reopened.

Meanwhile, it has emerged the canisters were probably buried in the woodland either during or just after the Second World War.

The use of mustard gas was outlawed by the Geneva Convention - a multi -nation agreement drawn up in 1926.

However, while the use was prohibited, countries - including the UK - were allowed to manufacture and store mustard gas.

It is understood troops based in Woodhall Spa during WW2 might have trained in the use of chemical weapons - and then disposed of them after the conflict end in 1945.

Police did confirm the canisters discovered in the lake had been ‘deposited’ at a much later date.

Details of both searches were revealed at a public meting held at the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa last Thursday evening. Police stressed that despite the finds, - and the high profile search - there was no threat to the public.

So many people turned up to the meeting, two sessions were organised with the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones in attendance. Superintendent Phil Vickers, from Lincolnshire Police, indicated no further canisters were expected to be found.

He said he could not comment on when Kirkby Lane and Roughton Moor Woods would reopen but thanked the public for their ongoing support.

The drama began on Sunday, October 1 when the canisters were discovered in the woods - a popular site for walkers.

Three people have been arrested in connection with the discovery of the canisters in both locations and have been released on police bail.

Police say the arrests - and the fact there is an ‘ongoing’ investigation - limits what they can say.

ELDC leader Craig Leyland - who is a ward councillor for Woodhall Spa - praised the emergency services for the way they handled what he called a ‘complicated situation.’

Residents have also spoken of their relief and Alan King, who lives near Kirkby Lane, said he was looking forward to ‘life getting back to normal.’

He said: “There’s been a bit of upheaval because of the road closures but I can undderstand why. People have been finding various items in those woods from the war for years now but never anything like this.”