Rocket enthusiast Philip Leonard jailed for storing explosives

 

A "reclusive" rocket enthusiast made and stored the same high explosive used by "Shoebomber" Richard Reid in his garden shed using chemicals he bought on eBay, a court heard today.

Philip Leonard, 36, created substances capable of inflicting "life-threatening injuries" to people living around the home he shared with his partner and their two children, aged six and 13, after using instructions he also found online.

Taunton Crown Court heard that after police acting on intelligence raided the house in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, on January 20 they found the explosives stored close to unstable chemicals, further increasing the risk of an accidental explosion.

Local residents were evacuated from their homes and a 100-metre exclusion zone was established around the property in Beatty Way.

The court also heard Leonard had been conducting small explosions out in the Somerset countryside, far away from any people.

Sentencing Leonard to two years in prison, Judge Stephen O'Malley told him: "I'm pleased that there are systems in place which identify to the authorities people who are doing things like this.

"What the investigators, police and others, found in January when they raided your home was a potentially very dangerous situation with four different explosive substances which singularly or combined had the potential to cause serious injury to people and property.

"My main purpose in sentencing you has to be to bring home to you and others the gravity of what you did."

Leonard, who admitted four charges of making explosive substances for an unlawful purpose at an earlier hearing, will serve two years concurrently for each charge.

Prosecutor William Hunter said that Leonard was not a terrorist intent on killing but simply had an "interest in pyrotechnics".

Nevertheless, he said, if the explosives had exploded they could have caused "potentially serious injuries to anyone in the vicinity".

"The police went there because they had learned he was purchasing items which were of concern. He purchased them on eBay, the auction site," he said.

"The way the explosives and chemicals were being stored in close proximity to each other, there was potential for a serious fire to be caused. The materials should not be stored in the same shed.

"He had in his possession high explosives, he knew they were dangerous."

Patrick Mason, defending Leonard, said he had become increasingly reclusive and depressed, not seeing anyone outside his family, since a civil claim after a car accident in 2002 had ruined him financially.

"He is someone very damaged by the experience of 10 years ago," he said.

"He had an interest in pyrotechnics and fireworks for some time and he was able to indulge his interest via research on the internet.

"He experimented in relative safety in the middle of nowhere, making small detonations. It was rockets really that he was interested in."

He added that Leonard's partner had left him since his arrest.

Chief Inspector Peter Saban, from Avon and Somerset Police, said Leonard was a "stupid man".

"He is not a domestic terrorist. This is a man simply in his back yard combining chemicals to create explosives," he said.

"Nevertheless it is a really dangerous thing to do, and not a reasonable thing to do. If there is a message to get across to anyone thinking of doing this, it is 'you are playing with fire."

PA

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