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Manchester 'DIY devil bomber' kept explosive in family fridge
No evidence of intent to harm, says police source
A Manchester court case this week revealed chilling evidence of the devastation that can be caused by home-made bombs. Or, possibly, the case merely provided further evidence of the press' and security services' tenuous grasp of the science of bomb-making.
According to today's Times, a former student "kept a bottle of his explosive in the kitchen fridge at his family’s £450,000 home in Worsley, Greater Manchester." Police, the Times tells us, "said that the mix was so volatile that an accidental shove of the fridge could have caused an explosion that would have destroyed every home in the cul-de-sac." Which sounds like a very big fridge containing a very big bottle full of deeply scary stuff.
The Times reports that the student mixed ingredients "including potassium nitrate and magnesium." These are indeed substances which can be combined to produce a bang, but not ones which of their own volition form a readily-bottled liquid when combined. The Register has some passing familiarity with potassium nitrate (saltpetre), which is used in the production of salt beef, and which was winning us penetrating stares down at the chemist's well before the Global War on Terror. But yes, it's also a component of gunpowder, and can be used to make bombs; more commonly, however, terrorists use ammonium nitrate, which is used as a fertiliser and more readily available. But even assuming very large fridge and very large container of either, slamming the fridge door is unlikely to set it off unless the door's booby-trapped with a couple of flints, and we wouldn't expect it to go much beyond making a serious mess of the kitchen anyway.
The Manchester Evening News, however, has some more plausible detail. Police found potassium nitrate, magnesium "and a highly-explosive substance called triacteone triperoxide". This is TATP, produced with acetone and peroxide with the aid of a great deal of care and a certain amount of refrigeration, as we explained here and as comprehensively dismantled by Dick Destiny here and here. And yes, you could reasonably worry about what that stuff might do left lying around the fridge, but the bang is still not going to be neighbourhood-threatening.
The MEN analysis is more fevered, quoting a police source: "He kept a bottle of a completed mix in the family fridge. The entire house and the entire street could have been blown up. It is so volatile it did not need gunpowder to ignite it. Just a heavy shove of the fridge could have triggered an explosion."
Careful readers will note from our sources that although we do have explosives here, a garage door blown off, bangs in the wood and one unlucky sheep, this was not a terrorism trial. At a hearing in March, Edward Mattison admitted three charges of possessing an explosive substance and one of causing an explosion, and has now admitted downloading five sexually explicit images of "pre-teens". He has been granted conditional bail pending sentencing in October. ®