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Suspect package behind Old Trafford postponement 'was training device'

Published 15/05/2016

A sniffer dog at Old Trafford, Manchester
A sniffer dog at Old Trafford, Manchester

A suspicious item which sparked the evacuation of Old Trafford and led to Manchester United's final Premier League game of the season being postponed "was a training device", police said.

Bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion on the suspicious item which was described as an "incredibly lifelike explosive device" by Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

Police said the device had been left by a "private company".

The Stretford End and Sir Alex Ferguson Stand were evacuated around 20 minutes before the scheduled kick-off of 3pm after an announcement was made for security personnel to invoke "operation red code".

Shortly after 3.15pm those remaining in the 75,000 seater stadium were informed the game was off.

The device was accidentally left by a private company following a training exercise involving explosive search dogs, police said.

Army bomb disposal experts called in by officers carried out a controlled explosion on the device which was found in the toilets within the North West Quadrant of the ground.

Assistant Chief Constable John O'Hare from GMP said: "Following today's controlled explosion, we have since found out that the item was a training device which had accidentally been left by a private company following a training exercise involving explosive search dogs.

"Whilst this item did not turn out to be a viable explosive, on appearance this device was as real as could be, and the decision to evacuate the stadium was the right thing to do, until we could be sure that people were not at risk."

Ed Woodward, United's vice-chairman, said the club will "investigate the incident to inform future actions and decisions".

He added: " The safety of fans is always our highest priority.

"I'd like to thank the support from the police which was first class and the impeccable response from fans of both teams.

"The club takes security very seriously and staff are regularly trained with the police and emergency services to identify and deal with these incidents."

United were hoping a win against AFC Bournemouth would lead to Champions League qualification - an ambition that now looks unlikely after rivals Manchester City drew with Swansea in their final fixture of the season.

It is understood that both sets of players were kept in the dressing rooms for around 40 minutes before being taken to a suite, being looked after by security and hospitality staff.

The game was called off after discussions between the Football Association, the Premier League and police.

The abandoned game has been rearranged for Tuesday at 8pm, the Premier League announced.

The alert at Old Trafford came just days after GMP held a mock terrorist operation at Manchester's Trafford Centre which saw a fake suicide bomber shouting "Allahu Akbar" immediately before detonating a bomb.

The overnight operation had been testing the anti-terror police's response to a Paris or Brussels-type attack on civilians but was criticised after footage showed one actor repeatedly shout the religious phrase meaning "God is great".

The Assistant Chief Constable of GMP Garry Shewan issued an apology, calling it ''unacceptable'' to use the phrase - and apologised for any offence caused.

In January United reportedly beefed up security at Old Trafford in the wake of the terror attack at the Stade de France in Paris.

On Wednesday Home Secretary Theresa May announced that MI5 had raised the threat level to Great Britain from Northern Ireland-related terrorism from moderate to substantial - the third most serious category out of five.

Mrs May the move ''reflects the continuing threat from dissident republican activity''.

The threat level to the UK from international terrorism remains at severe - meaning an attack is ''highly likely''. This has not been changed.

Greater Manchester's Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd called the incident "outrageous".

Mr Lloyd said: "It is outrageous this situation arose and a full inquiry is required to urgently find out how this happened, why it happened and who will be held accountable.

"This fiasco caused massive inconvenience to supporters who had come from far and wide to watch the match, wasted the time of huge numbers of police officers and the army's bomb squad, and unnecessarily put people in danger, as evacuating tens of thousands of people from a football stadium is not without risk.

"Whilst this in no way demeans the professionalism of the police and stewards responsible for getting the fans out, or the supporters' calmness and cooperation during the evacuation, it is unacceptable that it happened in the first place."

Bournemouth fan Jason Lewis made the lengthy journey up to Old Trafford, waking up at 6am to catch a coach and arrived home around 14 hours later.

The 20-year-old student told the Press Association he felt "let down" by Man United and the security firm responsible.

"Initially I was relieved but to find out it was a device left from a training exercise beggars belief really."

"This is Man United we're talking about, the biggest club in the world. It will leave a sour taste in my mouth whenever I think of them," said Mr Lewis.

"They're offering free tickets for Tuesday but will that include travel costs? I won't be able to go back on Tuesday, people are working, people are at school."

Mr Lewis added: "We always knew we had this trip to Old Trafford at the end of the season, it was going to be a party atmosphere. The party has been cancelled."

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