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Magnet fisher who pulled artillery shell out of River Cam says it was in a ‘vulnerable’ state

The man who fished out an artillery shell from the River Cam on Sunday has revealed it was in a ‘vulnerable’ state.

Richard Barry, who started the Cambridge Magnet Fishing Facebook site 10 months ago, believes education is the key to a rapidly growing nationwide hobby.

Magnet fisher's artillery shell catch was in a vulnerable state
Magnet fisher's artillery shell catch was in a vulnerable state

Police were called at 10.45am on Sunday, April 25, with reports of a Second World War bomb and a grenade being found at Riverside, Cambridge.

Officers attended along with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team, which disposed of both devices. The shell was around one-and-a-half foot in length.

Mr Barry, a driver for a construction company, said: “The shell was definitely a surprise. Apparently it was a 105 artillery shell. It didn’t have a tip on it but it was quite vulnerable so potentially you could have lost an arm or a leg.

“I thought it was a cast iron bollard to start with. But when I saw it, I assumed it was dead. I asked if we could keep it if it had been safe, but they declined. If we find a weapon like a pistol or rifle, we have to call the police for that kind of thing and you can’t keep grenades obviously!”

Mr Barry’s group, which has around 60 members, is hoping to raise money for a charity by having an organised clean-up of the river.

The hobby involves throwing a heavy magnet, attached to a rope, into the river to try to find metal artefacts. Guns, safes, shells, hand grenades and knives have all been fished out across the UK and bomb disposal teams have already dealt with a number of incidents in Cambridge. One involved a teenage boy who found a shell.

Mr Barry added: “We are trying to pull all the clutter out of the river – the trollies, bikes, you name it, to clean the river and stop boats hitting them mainly. There are children, not in our group, who also do this kind of thing. If they pull a hand grenade out, which is quite easy, what are they going to do with it?

“Magnet fishing helps with mental health and this is one of the reasons a lot of us do it. We want to do a major clean-up of the river for charity and let some children, with the permission of their parents of course, have a go and make a donation.”

Richard Barry of Cambridge Magnet Fishing caught this vulnerable artillery shell
Richard Barry of Cambridge Magnet Fishing caught this vulnerable artillery shell

Mr Barry’s colleague also found the rifle grenade, which looked like a screwdriver and was confiscated by the bomb team.

The hobby is legal and one regular magnet fisher even has a YouTube channel with 113,000 subscribers. But the Canal and River Trust does not allow it on its 2,000 miles of waterways.

A C&RT spokesperson said: “Our waterways are enjoyed by thousands of people every day.and many take an interest in the weird and wonderful items that sometimes find their way to the bottom of the canal.

“However, removing these from the canal can be dangerous without the appropriate support. It’s great that people are interested in getting rubbish out of the canal, however we don’t allow magnet fishing as it can be extremely dangerous. Items dragged out by magnets could be sharp or heavy and cause you to be dragged into the water.

“We’ve even had reports of people fishing out old war bombs and dumped weapons.”

North of the border, the rules are changing this weekend.

The pastime has increased in popularity in Scotland during last year’s lockdown, but will be allowed on the country’s canals for the first time on Saturday.

The national body, Official Magnet Fishing Scotland, has been granted permission for members to “fish” in Edinburgh.

Catherine Topley, Scottish Canals chief executive, said she was “delighted” to allow “safe, responsible and accessible magnet fishing”.

“Magnet fishing will have a positive impact on our network and this activity will help our operations staff ensure that our canals remain positive green and blue spaces for the people of Scotland and navigable for our boating customers.”

The UK’s first magnet fishing agreement was signed between Scottish Canals and Official Magnet Fishing Scotland in December last year, which set out safe working practices and waste disposal policies.

Calum Black, chairman of the group, said: “Over the last year magnet fishing has become hugely popular and the canal network has proven time and time again to be our members’ destination of choice.”

Despite the worries over the possible dangers of catching live munition, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence admitted it had no guidelines on the subject.

“It is down to the local landowner where magnet fishing is allowed. We would work with the local council if we needed to,” said the spokeswoman.

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