HONIARA, 24 SEPTEMBER 2020 (ISLAND SUN) — Two foreigners killed in a Solomon Islands bomb blast at Tasahe last Sunday may have been illegally disarming World War II munitions at their home for some time.
That’s according to sources close to the police team investigating the case.
Australian Trent Lee and Briton Stephen “Luke” Atkinson died when an unexploded bomb detonated while they were cutting to open it.
“The munition that exploded and killed the pair was a mortar,” one source told Island Sun.
“Mortar is the type of munition that’s normally dropped from fighter planes,” the source explained.
“It normally explodes the moment it hits the ground.
“But if for some reasons it fails to explode, it becomes highly dangerous because it can explode any time you start playing with it.”
The source said investigators discovered the duo, who worked for NGO Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), placed the mortar in a pool of water and were cutting to disarm it when it exploded and killed them instantly.
“Investigators also found bombs that they’ve already disarmed and those that are yet to be disarmed in their rented property.
“This goes to show they’ve been doing this sort of thing for sometimes,” the source said.
Another source said under the terms of their engagement, the pair were not allowed to take any unexploded bomb to the home they were staying in.
“Their job is basically to record any WWII bombs found anywhere in the country for data and record purposes,” the source said.
“It’s the job of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit within the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) to collect and safely denote any bombs at the Hell’s Point site in east Honiara,” he added.
“The fact that the pair were collecting and storing bombs at their home was an indication they were up to something.
“This is now the focus of the current police investigation.”
Head of EOD Clifford Tunuki said while they have a good working relationship with the Norwegian People’s Aid, they didn’t realise Lee and Atkinson were collecting and storing bombs at their home.
He said had they’d known the activities of the two men, they would have requested the items be moved to Hell’s Point.
The Norwegian People’s Aid project is funded by the United States Government.
Port Moresby-based U.S ambassador to Solomon Islands Erin McKee said they are waiting for the outcome of the police investigation.
She said if investigations found there are any specific violations of the U.S government grant terms and conditions, Norwegian People’s Aid will be held accountable for that.
Norwegian People’s Aid began its project in Solomon Islands last December.
The project works with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, to develop an effective nation-wide information collection system of WWI bombs.
This database will be utilised as the primary information resource to inform Humanitarian Explosive Remnants of War clearance and development planning throughout the country.
Deputy Secretary General of Norwegian People’s Aid, Per Nergaard said in the international media the explosion was “a tragic accident”.
“So far, we know that there has been an explosion with fatal consequences. Our main priority now is to offer assistance to relatives and colleagues, and to clarify what has happened,” Nergaard said.
He said NPA’s activities in Solomon Islands have been suspended, and the organisation is assisting police with their investigations.
Meanwhile, Island Sun has learnt that the body of Australian Trent Lee will be buried in Solomon Islands, while arrangements are being made for the repatriation of the body of Briton Stephen Atkinson back to his home country.
Lee had previously worked with Gold Ridge Mining Ltd and was well-known among locals…. PACNEWS

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