Children injured in new bomb accident in National Park

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The Independent Online
LEONARD DOYLE

The firing range in the middle of Dartmoor National Park where three children were blown up and severely injured on Sunday, possibly by a bomb left by the US army during the Second World War, has been the scene of othertragedies involving unexploded munitions.

In 1958, a small boy was killed when he walked into a live firing area in the wilderness area of Great Mis Tor, which is between Princetown and Tavistock. The boy was hit by a shell. In 1987 a boy was injured when he dug up an unexploded missile and hit it with a piece of metal, causing it to explode. In another incident in 1966 a boy lost the fingers of one hand when live rifle rounds he had found exploded on him.

The accidents have all happened near the spot where Jenny, Ricki and Gary Worrall were injured while "letterboxing" during a day's outing on the moor on Sunday.

Since 1854, when the first tin box was placed near Cranmere Pool on the moors, walkers have been going "letterboxing". They look for hidden tobacco or biscuit tins placed near the top of remote, rocky tors down the years. The "letterboxes" contain rubber stamps which walkers use to mark record books, logging their progress as they go. Since moving to the market town of Ashburton, south Devon, two years ago the family had ticked off 100 "letterboxes".

The bomb exploded on Sunday when the Worrall family stopped to rest about 5pm near the summit of Great Mis Tor. The children staggered back to their parents, who had heard a large explosion and then saw a plume of white smoke. Covered in his daughter's blood, Mr Worrall ran two miles across the moor to raise the alarm from a hostel. The children were taken to hospital in a police helicopter and by Devon Air Ambulance.

Army bomb disposal experts said yesterday that the bomb was a 2-inch mortar shell which had lain undisturbed in the moor for more than 50 years. The shell was dated March 1943 and was probably fired by American forces who used all of Dartmoor for firing practice during the Second World War.

Jenny, eight, was still in intensive care yesterday at Plymouth's Derriford Hospital with shrapnel injuries to her stomach, spleen and chest. Her brother Ricki, nine, suffered shrapnel wounds to the head and Gary, 10, suffered injuries to his foot which required plastic surgery.

Steven Worrall, the children's father, said yesterday that they had seen no warning signs that they were in the middle of a firing range or that there was any danger from picking up objects. When the range is in operation red flags warn the public and there are signs around the perimeter telling people not to pick up objects.

The Army's use of the National Park has long been the subject of controversy in Devon. The firing range is leased to the military by the Duchy of Cornwall and protesters say it is unfair to fire live rounds in a national park.

The Army said unexploded munitions are cleared from the Merrivale range. The area's Tory MP, Emma Nicholson, said she would ask the armed forces minister, Nicholas Soames, for a full inquiry.

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