EOD EXPERT CONFIRMS “BATTLEFIELD RECOVERY” SHOWED “POTENTIALLY LETHAL” PRACTICES

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The promotional graphic used for Battlefield Recovery, previously used for the abortive “Nazi War Diggers”.
[Image:  ClearStory Productions- Fair Use for news reporting and review]

 

 

In 2014, shortly after the original broadcasts of the TV series “Nazi War Diggers” were cancelled by the National Geographic Channel, thePipeLine published allegations, never denied by the producers of the series, ClearStory Productions, that the presenter team had undertaken potentially dangerous practices regarding unexploded ordnance during filming in Latvia in the Autumn of 2013.  Now, having obtained a copy of the third episode of retitled and re-edited series which was broadcast in Poland in the Autumn of 2015, thePipeLine can reveal that expert opinion we have consulted, coupled with a statement from the company issued yesterday [Friday 8 January], suggests those allegations appear to be correct.  If the opinion of our expert is upheld by further investigation by the broadcasting authorities these allegations could see the programme, which is due to be shown in a British version as “Battlefield Recovery” on Channel 5 starting on Saturday, fall foul of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code which is designed to protect viewers from dangerous or anti-social behaviour, especially pre the watershed when children might be watching.  The revelation will also increase pressure on broadcaster Channel 5 to withdraw the series.

We showed the episode of “POSZUKIWACZE WOJENNYCH SKARBÓW” [Seekers of War Treasure], as well as screen shots taken from the episode, to an experienced Explosive Ordnance Disposal [EOD] Officer with almost forty years experience in the field, including experience of providing EOD safety cover for a number of TV documentaries.

At 28’38” into the episode, one of the presenters, Stephen Taylor, states that certain objects are “still dangerous seventy years on.”  There is then a cut to a shot where the four presenters, metal detectorists Steven Taylor, Chris Rodgers, and Adrian Kostromski and American dealer in Nazi period relics Craig Gottleib, are shown working in a waterlogged trench where they have apparently been exhuming human remains.  A sub title in Polish states [in translation] “All misfires were disarmed by specialists”

Nazi War Diggers Programme 3 Grenade 1 28 04

Stephen Taylor apparently exposes a German stick grenade as Kris Rodgers watches.  The subtitle reads “All misfires were disarmed by specialists”
[Image:  Discovery Channel Poland- Fair Use for news reporting and review]
However, in a sequence where the shots appear to have been carefully edited and are possibly at least partially out of sequence the following dialogue and events occur.

Presenter Kris Rodgers identifies an object in the trench and asks what is it?

Mr Taylor replies “you’ve got the bottom of a stick grenade”  He then adds “we need to go real, real slow” implying they are going to continue to excavate in the presence of a potentially viable grenade.

After further dialogue including the words from Mr Taylor “Yeah, you’ve got the rest of the grenade” implying the diggers have identified and begun excavating and exposing a potentially viable explosive device, we see Mr Taylor holding the base and detonator of the grenade.

Nazi War Diggers Programme 3 Grenade 3 28 12

Stephen Taylor holds up the component parts of a dug up German stick grenade.
[Image:  Discovery Channel Poland- Fair Use for news reporting and review]

Finally Mr Taylor is shown holding the fragmentation head of the grenade which had held the main charge, but which now appears to be hollow.

He then proceeds to reunite the two components for the camera.

thePipeLine’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Operator confirmed the identification of the grenade as being a German type used during World War Two and commented that, even if the grenade were ultimately shown to be inert the team could not have known that when they began to uncover it.

He also commented that, in his opinion, none of the Nazi War Diggers team were competent or qualified to make informed judgements about whether or not a device or item of ammunition was safe or dangerous, particularly when it was still in the ground and they were thus certainly not qualified to excavate such material before it had been certified as safe by a competent and qualified EOD Operator from the Latvian Army or Police, neither of whom are shown as present and crucially in charge of the operation, during the sequence.

Finally he noted that safe practice, used on many previous television documentaries, including “Trench Detectives” also shown on Channel 5, would have been to withdraw the team and crew and call in a professional EOD operator to assess the situation and clearly explain the procedure and decisions made on camera so that the audience was aware of the danger, any legal issues related to procedures for handling weapons and firearms, and how the danger was mitigated.

There is no sign that this best practice procedure was adopted during the recording of “Battlefield Recovery” although it is known that “ClearStory Productions” were explicitly warned about these issues a number of times and had been given the contact etails of appropriate experts to advise them, prior to shooting in Latvia and Poland.

Here it is necessary to note that there is a sub set of metal detectorists who deliberately go out in search of weapons and items of ammunition and believe their experience in so doing, and the fact that they have handled and even dismantled such devices without being injured or killed renders them competent.  In the eyes of the Law it does not.  Indeed, another amateur metal detectorist and militaria collector, not part of the programme, but well known to anyone in militaria metal detecting circles, Mr Alan Tissington, is currently facing firearms and explosives charges relating to the possession of similar material to that excavated in Latvia. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-34927000 Charges Mr Tissington denies.  Certainly then, this kind of activity can clearly have very serious consequences.

This sequence certainly raises some very serious and disturbing questions about the conduct of the filming and the level of safety supervision in place which ClearStory Productions, the producers of NaziWar Diggers/Battlefield Recovery and Channel 5 who propose to begin broadcasting the series tomorrow, Saturday 9 January, must answer.

Did the digging team, Mr Taylor, Mr Rodgers, Mr Kostromski and Mr Gottleib excavate a German stick grenade at a site in Latvia for the cameras and is that the scene shown in Episode 3 of the series when it was shown in Poland?

Was the grenade shown excavated and made safe if necessary by a professional EOD operator from the Latvian Army, Police or properly licenced civilian EOD Company?

If the device was excavated by a professional EOD operator why was the scene then faked to make it look as if the presenter team excavated the grenade themselves contrary to all best practice for EOD safety?

Does this scene remain in the version of the series to be broadcast in Britain by Channel 5?

Are there similar scenes where the team appear to dig up or handle potentially viable explosive devices in other programmes in the series?

Finally and most importantly;

Why do the producers, ClearStory Productions, believe it is sensitive and compliant with all local laws and the Ofcom Code, to allow four amateurs with no obvious safety cover, to be shown to appear to excavate, or worse to actually excavate, a potentially lethal seventy year old munition on camera, surrounded by the production crew?

According to period military manuals the effective blast radius of the High Explosive version of the German grenade shown is around 16m.  Our expert confirmed that had it exploded the entire cast and crew of the programme involved in the sequence could have been injured or even killed.  A conclusion which suggests that the actions of the company during the recording of the excavation of explosives and ammunition may well not have been compliant with ClearStory’s duty of care to its presenters and crew under UK health and safety legislation either.

Nazi War Diggers Programme 3 Grenade 2 28 11
Chris Rodgers and Craig Gottleib watch as Stephen Taylor holds up grenade components showing how close they, and the camera operator, were to the “grenade” as it was apparently dug up.
[Image:  Discovery Channel Poland- Fair Use for news reporting and review]

 

ClearStory Productions need to explain in detail how this scene came to be shot and what actually happened during the recovery of the grenade.

If it turns out that a team of amateurs were allowed to excavate a potentially viable explosive device Ofcom, the British televison regulator, are sure to be asked how such behaviour is compliant with section 1.13 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code which relates to protecting children from dangerous or imitable behaviour before the 9pm Watershed and Section 2.4 of the Code which does not allow material which “condones or glamorises violent, dangerous or seriously antisocial behaviour” when an independent expert states the behaviour shown is clearly dangerous to the point of reckless?

It should be noted that, as the promotional graphic used to head this article  suggests,  the entire premise of the series is that the presentation team are metal detecting action heroes out to save history, rather than what they are.  A group of enthusiastic amateur historians, metal detectorists, collectors and a dealer, Mr Gottlieb, who have been sent by a television company to dig up military artefacts, weapons and bodies.

 

Given the serious nature of these allegation thePipeLine approached ClearStory Productions for a comment.  This is how the company responded;

 

“All excavation and recovery was carried out in the presence of and under the supervision of the relevant licensed agency in the countries concerned.  We are, therefore, confident that the recovery to which you refer, as with other recoveries, was carried out in accordance with applicable local law.  Naturally, our presenters erred on the side of caution with regard to the recovery and handling of potentially live ordnance.  Legenda, the agency concerned whose representatives were present, were satisfied it had sufficient experience of handling potentially live ordnance in its team and the Latvian army was on hand if required to assist.  Their assistance was not required by Legenda in this case.  Legenda’s representatives have viewed the films and are satisfied by the way this recovery is presented.  The programmes have been carefully considered in light of the rules in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and we are confident that, in their full context, they are compliant.”

However,  thePipeLine must point out that;

1.  This statement appears to admit that there was no professional EOD cover on hand for the excavation of the stick grenade described and shown above and broadcast in Poland.

2.  The scene as broadcast in Poland does not show the presenters working under the direct supervision of a properly qualified individual [which itself would be dangerous practice].  Instead they are shown working on an apparently unexploded munition and appearing to  work out what to do themselves.  Our EOD expert says if this is what actually happened on location it was reckless and showing this practice to the viewing public is irresponsible.

3.  If the presenters were working under direct supervision.of a qualified Latvian EOD expert the scene must have been faked, either on site or in the editing suite, to make it look as if they were working unsupported.

4.  It must also be pointed out that Legenda, the body that ClearStory state it was working through in Latvia, is not an “agency” with any legal status in heritage or EOD, but an organisation made up of civilian volunteers and enthusiasts.  Indeed, other UK based amateur metal detectorists/collectors are known to have dug with Legenda and it is strongly suspected by experts in trafficking artefacts that ground dug militaria from Latvia has found its way into private collections in the UK, although there is as yet no proven connection between excavations by Legenda and the supply of artefacts.  Indeed, Legenda deny that any material from Legenda exhumations is taken by collectors.

In conclusion, it seems clear that in this case at least, the series “Battlefield Recovery” made by ClearStory Productions depicted and attempted to glamourise, dangerous behaviour regarding unexploded munitions in a way which can be argued to breach the Ofcom code.  It follows that ClearStory Productions, the producer and Channel 5 the broadcaster, have an absolute duty to remove this scene from any edits of “Battlefield Recovery” which might be broadcast in the UK until it can be stated by independent experts that the depiction of the activity is safe and appropriate for broadcast.

Even more disturbing is the thought that similar scenes might be found in other three episodes of the series.  In the eys of our expert, this possibility alone should lead Channel 5 to withdraw the programme and have the content vetted by independent experts in battlefield archaeology and explosive ordnance disposal.

Many in the archaeological world and community of EOD operators might go further and argue that the series should be permanently withdrawn as unbroadcastable.   The EOD Operators in particular would have a point.  It would be they and their colleagues in the emergency services who would have to literally pick up the pieces on the day a television company’s quest for ratings ends up with a device functioning on camera.

At the time of writing, several people a year are severely injured or killed in accidents involving dug up munitions from World Wars One and Two.