Gunpowder keg clue as six die in blast at ammunition factory
by Aubrey Chalmers
Six workers were killed yesterday when an explosion ripped through an ammunition factory.
Four women and two men died as the gun cartridge plant blew up. Another 20 were injured, some seriously, as the building collapsed. Many were trapped under rubble when the roof and walls caved in. And last night experts sifting through the debris for clues to the mystery blast said a 30lb, gunpowder container was at the seat of the explosion.
The blast rocked the filling plant at the Imperial Metal Industry works at Witton, Birmingham, Britain’s biggest manufacturer of sporting gun cartridges.
More than 40 workers were in the section at the time. They are mainly engaged in maintenance and machine minding work as the materials are fed into the cartridges automatically. Although the material is flammable, it is extremely difficult to explode except when specially detonated.
Managing director Sir John Elstub said “No known cause, like lighting a cigarette or match, would cause an explosion of that magnitude in that building.”
Workers talked last night of the terrible scenes at the factory. Maintenance man Benny Baxter said “There was a terrific explosion and glass and rubble showered everywhere. Then women started pouring out. They were covered in blood and screaming and crying.”
Mrs Heulwen Riley, 45, was walking past the factory when it exploded. She said “It knocked me off my feet. Sobbing women raced out and I went in searching for the injured. I scratched away at the debris with my hands.”
Two women who survived with minor injuries were Mrs Jacqueline Storey, 25, and Mrs Ivy Kelly, 57.
Lat night a spokesman for Birmingham City police said “We have no evidence at the moment of a criminal act being involved.”