A racist and homophobic bigot has been jailed for making potentially lethal bombs in a Breaking Bad style laboratory at his Devon home.
Steven Bracher, 56, made pipe bombs and had a nine-kilo tub of highly explosive ammonium nitrate material under his bed.
Navy bomb disposal experts blew up the material near Dartmoor in a huge explosion that sent debris flying about 100 feet into the air.
Unemployed drug user Bracher, aged 56, made three pipe bombs and 14 cardboard covered bombs at his first floor flat in Bishops Tawton which was just 20 metres from the village primary school.
His case was looked at by anti terrorism police but they found no evidence of any immediate intention to use the bombs to carry out the threats he made in is jottings.
He claimed all the smaller devices were home made fireworks or bangers and the larger tub of ammonia nitrate fuel oil (ANFO) was part of an attempt to make his own drugs.
He also told police he was also trying to make his own amphetamines and met amphetamines in an process similar to that used by amateur chemist Walter White in the TV series Breaking Bad.
Bracher, of the Law Memorial Houses in Bishops Tawton, admitted three counts of having explosive substances, one of possessing a lock knife in Barnstaple High Street, and one of possessing amphetamines.
He was jailed for three years and four months by Judge David Evans at Exeter Crown Court.
Judge Evans told him even the small devices were potentially lethal if anyone was in the immediate vicinity and the possible impact of the ANFO was hard to calculate.
He said the combination of the extreme views expressed in Bracher’s notebook, his abuse of alcohol and drugs, and his interest in explosives meant he posed a danger to the public.
He said: “Among the views were somewhat rambling, but clearly expressed, racist and homophobic attitudes and hostility towards various minorities and other groups in society.
“You appear to have had a cavalier attitude to the substance and the risks of storing them.
“It may be you began with a childish delight in watching bangers explode but your intention in mixing up nine kilograms of ANFO is a very disturbing development.
“It had the potential to cause a significant explosion in a confined space such as your home. There is also the proximity a primary school.
“The most significant matter in this case is the strong need for deterrence. Nobody should have this quantity of explosive devices or high explosives. Nobody should manufacture it.
“The possession of such items by a drug and alcohol user who has expressed such hostility to others and has such a cavalier approach to risk is extremely concerning.”
Richard Crabb, defending, said Bracher did not realise the danger of what he was doing.
He referred to the smaller devices as bangers or fireworks and said he had tested them in an isolated spot on the banks of the River Taw.
He said the ANFO was not mixed as an explosive but was part of a failed attempt to extract pure codeine from over the counter painkillers.
He also used the substance to clean items which he found while pursuing his hobby of metal detectorism which had led him to donate several finds to local museums.
He said Bracher never intended to use the explosives or to hurt anyone or cause damage. His only motivation was a fascination with chemistry and an delight in making bangs.
How they caught him
Following the sentence, the detective who led the investigation into Bishops Tawton bomb-maker Steven Bracher has revealed how police worked round-the-clock to convict him after a chance search in Barnstaple.
Police have revealed how they uncovered a collection of home-made explosives at a house in Bishops Tawton after a stroke of luck in Barnstaple High Street.
Detective Inspector Phil Gray, of Barnstaple CID, has unveiled details on how police convicted Bracher in what he called ‘one of the biggest cases’ of his career.
DI Gray said Bracher’s hobby of making explosives, as well as diaries with extreme homophobic and racist views, was only revealed after a chance encounter in Boots chemist.
Bracher had gone to collect a controlled substance he was taking on prescription on January 24 this year, but after claiming he had dropped or lost one of the tablets, protocol meant he had to be searched.
During the search he was asked if he had anything on him, to which he produced a knife and some white powder.
As standard, this led to police being called – but little did they know the discovery they were about to make.
“When officers arrived Bracher was asked if he had anything else on him, and he produced what can only be described as a small, test tube-like container with black powder in,” said DI Gray.
“He told officers it was gunpowder and at that point he was arrested and taken into custody.”
Police officers conducted a search of Bracher’s property in Bishops Tawton, but when they entered the property they were in for a surprise.
In his home they found a number of chemicals and an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team was quickly called to seal off the house.
“The bomb disposal team arrived and assessed the scene, and decided at this point the public were not at any risk,” said DI Gray.
“The advice of EOD was that should any explosions occur, the house, which is an old almshouse-type building, would have contained any damage.
“That is why the decision was taken not to evacuate. There was never any risk to the public at any point.”
During a search of the house, 17 improvised IEDs were discovered, as well as in excess of 100 chemicals.
The decision was taken that the incident was not related to terrorism, despite diaries found at the property containing extreme racist and homophobic views.
“The reading was quite extreme and that combined with the explosives was very concerning,” said DI Gray.
“But the reason it was not treated as terrorism was that there was never anything found that implied Bracher wanted to use the explosives to harm any members of society.”
Instead, it appeared Bracher was making the explosives as something of a hobby, and told police he took them to remote locations to set them off.
Securing a conviction
With the clock ticking, police needed to find key evidence to secure Bracher’s stay in custody.
DI Gray said: “We were under immense pressure in the early stages to gather evidence to secure a charge to get him remanded.”
And they found what they needed hiding under Bracher’s bed in the form of 9kg of ammonium nitrate – an explosive.
“That was a game-changer,” said DI Gray.
“Any of the IEDs found in his home could have provided a donor charge sufficient enough to blow that up.”
Bracher was compliant with police, and said he saw the explosives as ‘fireworks’.
He had a keen interest in chemistry, something he had developed since school, and had injured his hand in the past with an explosive he had made.
Police also discovered a series of maps in his home and were initially worried they marked locations could been harbouring more explosives.
However, after investigations they believe these were sites where Bracher, a keen metal detectorist, had made discoveries.
In fact, many of the metal pieces he had discovered can be seen lining the walls of his bedroom in the photographs released by police after the sentencing.
DI Gray said the success of Bracher’s conviction would not have been possible without all the teams who worked around the clock to secure enough evidence for that charge.
“It’s wouldn’t have been in the position we’re in today if it wasn’t for the partnership between the Forensic Explosive Laboratory (FEL), the EOD, and the police.
“It was a massive effort by everybody, including the staff at Boots and the officers who first visited Bracher’s property.”