AN EX-SOLDIER who caused an explosion with a nail bomb made from a drinks can has walked free from court.

Father-of-two Leon Harker, 27, set off the device in the middle of the road in Pinfold Place, Nelson.

It was made from a cola can with a firework and 20 to 30mm nails from his job as a roofer, the court heard.

Police were called at around 8.10pm on March 21 last year after residents reported hearing a loud bang.

The spray from the explosion was about 10 metres.

Nobody was injured, but two men getting into a car nearby saw the bomb being lit and thought it was a firework, Burnley Crown Court heard.

Harker was seen by the two men running off with others "like big kids", shouting: "Yeeha!" He claimed what he had done was a silly prank.

When asked by a judge why he had set the nail bomb off, his barrister said he "probably just wanted to know what making a big bang looks like."

The judge said: "He has been in the Army. He knows what a big bang looks like."

The defendant, who was initially charged with making an explosive substance, admitted having an offensive weapon.

Harker, of Thursby Road, Nelson, was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for 18 months, with 80 hours unpaid work and a three month curfew, between 9pm and 6am. He had no previous convictions.

The court was told how an army captain who examined the remnants of the explosive device said it was akin to a hand grenade, a home-made bomb.

He described nails being fired out with enough speed to penetrate skin and possibly cause injury.

Emma Kehoe, prosecuting, said the defendant was arrested on March 24. He told police: "I'm sorry. It was a silly prank."

Harker said he had intended no harm to anybody and thoroughly regretted what he had done.

Mark Stuart, defending, said: "If the defendant had given sufficient thought to this matter, he would never have done it. He thought there was nobody about when he set it off.

“That's the serious aspect of this particular case. Somebody could have been injured as a result of what he did.

"This wasn't an act of malice. It's not suggested there are any anti-authoritarian views expressed by him or any political motive to do what he did."

Asked by the judge, Recorder William T C Smith, why the defendant had done it, Mr Stuart replied: "He probably just wanted to see what making a big bang looks like.

“It's the sort of thing you do when you are 12 or 13, with a chemistry set."

Sentencing, Recorder Smith told Harker: "There was clearly the potential for some serious injury being caused by you stupidly, recklessly and without any real thought at all, setting off that explosion that night.

"It's important that the message does not go out that I am not regarding this offence as anything other than a serious offence."

But Recorder Smith said Harker was working, no actual harm was caused and, the judge said, he had been "just persuaded" he could suspend the sentence.