Fireworks. Most people love them on birthdays, public displays, national celebrations, that kind of thing. We all stand there watching the dazzling flashes, piercing shrieks and deafening blasts while going ‘Oooh!’ and ‘Ahhh!’ and so on.

Fireworks are usually expensive. The bigger the bang, the more they cost. They’re especially popular in the UK around November 5, when the failed plot to blow up Parliament is marked by bonfires and firework displays. Guy Fawkes might not have managed to light his fuse, but some of Britain’s finest criminal minds certainly lit theirs when trying to rob a fireworks warehouse in 1995.

The appropriately-named Skyhigh Pyrotechnics had built their factory on a former military airfield, a disused bomber base to be exact. Being a disused bomber base it still had the bomb dump, an imposing concrete and steel bunker that worked just fine as a safe storage facility and stockroom for Skyhig’’s inventory. You can’t keep tonnes of explosives in a greenhouse, after all.

Unfortunately, Firework Night was fast approaching and Skyhigh’s stock attracted the attention of some criminal masterminds later nicknamed the ‘Hole In The Ground Gang.’

They’d cased the factory site and obviously noticed the huge steel doors protecting the erstwhile bomb dump. The doors were too big to force and the locks were too heavy to pick, but the gang had to open them somehow. They knew that fireworks were hot property at that time of year. Exactly how hot would become terrifyingly obvious.

They couldn’t pick the doors. They couldn’t force them. But they had to open them. Naturally they looked for other means to break in and haul off their ill-gotten gains and, as the doors were made of steel, one bright spark came up with the idea of cutting open the two-ton steel doors, behind which were several tonnes of all manner of fireworks. But how could they cut them open? The answer was obvious…

Acetylene cutting gear. What could possibly go wrong?

Yes, our fearless fools decided that the dump being packed to the rafters with explosive devices was no obstacle to burning their way through the doors while spraying sparks and white-hot globules of melted steel in all directions. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty…

The gang assembled, loaded their gear into a van and set off in the middle of the night to earn their fortune. It wouldn’t be long before night, very briefly, extremely loudly and providing a free display seen in neighbouring counties, became day. They parked their van, set up their cutting gear and started carving through the blast doors. It didn’t take long before what anybody with the intelligence of a boiled potato thought would happen, did happen.

BOOM!

Several tonnes of rockets and Roman candles promptly detonated all at once. The Roman candles fired thousands of incendiary balls everywhere, large rockets whizzed and exploded in every conceivable direction and most of the site was devastated. The bomb dump, despite being as solidly built as you’d expect was wiped out. The roof disintegrated, the walls were peeled outward like the petals of a flower and the blast doors were found lying on top of the getaway vehicle, itself mangled like it had gone through a crusher. Piece of concrete and vehicle parts are still regularly found on the site even today.

Having been thoroughly roused by the spontaneous combination of pyrotechnic inventiveness and human idiocy of truly staggering proportions and alerted by phone calls form their county and the next county over, police and fire crews rushed to the scene. They found a devastated factory, an obliterated bomb dump, a van now resembling a mechanical pizza and a scene of such total mayhem that even experienced emergency crews were flabbergasted.

Of the now-infamous ‘Hole In The Ground Gang’ themselves, nothing was found. No local hospitals reported any unusual patients arriving with burns or blast injuries so it was assumed, against the odds, that they all survived and had presumably departed the scene of the crime never to return.

While they came away with police looking for them, terrified out of their minds and probably reeking of black powder and cordite, these criminal cretins did at least have some small consolation. The earned the undying awe of all concerned (albeit for their mind-blowing stupidity) and even secured nominations for the Darwin Awards.

Not what they wanted, but considerably better than the alternative.