A 56-year-old man who turned his north Devon home into a bomb-making factory through his love of chemistry was jailed for 40 months today [17 September]. See the video of the controlled detonation here.
A total of 17 homemade improvised explosive devices [IEDs] and more than 100 chemicals were found by police in Steven Bracher’s one-bedroomed home in Bishop’s Tawton in January.
Exeter Crown Court today sentenced Bracher to 40 months in prison after previously being convicted of three charges of possessing explosives, contrary to the Explosive Substances Act 1883.
He pleaded guilty to the offences at an earlier hearing, along with possessing a knife and a quantity of amphetamine.
The stockpile of chemicals and IEDs were found by chance following the arrest of Bracher at Boots chemist in Barnstaple High Street on 24 January this year.
He had gone to the store for a dose of Subutex, a prescription medication for drug addiction which has to be taken in the presence of staff.
But when he claimed he had lost the tablet and began to cause a disturbance security staff searched him and he produced the knife and the drugs from his boot.
Police were called and a further search uncovered a vial of black powder which Bracher admitted was gunpowder.
He was taken into custody and a search warrant was issued for Bracher’s home in Bishop’s Tawton.
However, when officers entered the house they were greeted with rooms full of chemicals, homemade IEDs and various weapons.
They promptly left and called in the Royal Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Department [bomb disposal]. The house was cordoned off and EOD spent two to three days at the property making all of the items safe.
A total of 17 viable IEDs were found across the house with a vast variety of more than 100 chemicals, both household and others believed sourced from the internet.
A 9kg tub of ammonium nitrate with fuel oil – a fertiliser used for making explosives – was found under Bracher’s bed. This was later taken to Dartmoor at Okehampton to be destroyed by EOD in a controlled explosion.
Around eight weapons, including a crossbow, swords and a pick-axe were also found around the walls of the home.
Officers uncovered Bracher’s diaries containing extreme homophobic and racist views. In them, he expressed general hatred for the establishment and politicians.
Bracher had also kept maps with various locations around Barnstaple pinpointed.
The devices were sent to the Forensic Explosives Laboratory in Kent for analysis, while the chemicals were disposed of by a specialist national company.
A major investigation was launched by Barnstaple CID to uncover the motive behind Bracher’s stockpiling. National and local consideration was given to the security threat Bracher posed but the incident was not declared terrorism-related as no evidence was found to link the hate material with any direct threat to harm any individual with the explosives.
Searches were carried by a specialist explosives dog and digital detection dog at the locations on Bracher’s maps but nothing was found. It is believed that the maps referred to finds by Bracher as part of his hobby as a keen metal detectorist.
Bracher was extremely compliant in police interview and fully admitted the offences – and it became clear that he held a very different view of his actions to police.
Senior Investigating Officer Detective Inspector Phil Gray, of Barnstaple CID, said: “He was very unassuming and mild in his manner, and complied with us in an interview and throughout the investigation.
“Bracher is unemployed with a drugs habit and is an individual who has disassociated himself from society apart from a small circle of friends and family.
“He has an extensive knowledge of chemistry and this subject has been a fascination from school days. He has taught himself from the internet and books over the years.
“He has a further fascination for making explosives but he views these devices very differently to police. In his mind, they are ‘fireworks’ which he likes to take somewhere quiet by himself and detonate so that he just see them go bang.
“Bracher didn’t pose any danger to anyone else – more to himself. He made no suggestion of trying to harm anyone and this was never treated as a terrorist threat.
“This was something he liked to do but didn’t have any real understanding of the danger he had created. The danger is that he does not understand the implications of his actions and what could have happened by making explosives; they could have caused extreme harm if the intent had been there.
“We found no evidence of links to extremist groups or how he was getting the chemicals and materials. It appears that he had built up a collection over many years, most likely all from the internet and household chemicals from shops.
DI Gray paid tribute to the hard work and dedication of the detectives who worked on the investigation. They were all awarded with commendations.
He said: “The team were under intense pressure due to the nature of the incident and worked very long hours, particularly in those early days. This work resulted in the evidence being gathered to obtain early charges against Bracher and the eventual early guilty pleas in court.
“This was a chance find and testament to the uniformed officers who carried out the initial search on Bracher and realised the gravity of what they had found. If it wasn’t for that we wouldn’t have gone to the address and found what we did.
“You can imagine the thoughts of the officers who entered the house and were greeted by such a scene. Chemicals and IEDs were found in every room throughout the property. Bracher had not tried to hide anything.
“At no point were the wider community at risk and no other properties were evacuated on the advice of EOD as it was deemed that any potential explosion would have been contained within the stone-walled property.
“However I would like to pay tribute to the residents of Bishop’s Tawton who were thoroughly supportive and understanding of the high police and EOD presence in their village during which must have been a very unsettling time.”