Fake bomb sparks evacuation at Old Trafford

British police later said the suspect package found at Old Trafford was an “incredibly lifelike explosive device”

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison - Al Arabiya English
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A controlled explosion has been carried out on a suspect package found at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium shortly before the match against Bournemouth was due to kick off, police have said. The device was later proven to be a training device accidently left by a private company.

According to British daily The Guardian a source at the scene suggested a device made up of a mobile phone attached to a pipe had been found in toilets in the north-west corner of the stadium.

The match – the last of the season - was abandoned and the stadium evacuated before shortly before kickoff when the package was found.

“A controlled explosion has just been carried out within the stadium by bomb disposal experts at Old Trafford. More to follow,” Greater Manchester Police said on Twitter.

British police later said the suspect package found was an “incredibly lifelike explosive device”

The evacuation of two stands - The Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and the Stretford End – took place approximately 30 minutes before the match’s scheduled kickoff time of 3pm local time. Initially fans in the other stands were allowed to stay – but were also evacuated shortly after.

Police with sniffer dogs were seen inside Old Trafford after the decision was made to postpone the match.

Greater Manchester Police said on its Twitter page that people should “avoid the area if possible.”

When the incident happened Greater Manchester Police’s Assistant Chief Constable John O’Hare wrote on Twitter: “We don’t make these decisions lightly and we have done this today to ensure the safety of all those attending. I am thankful for everyone’s support and assistance and we will continue to provide updates on this matter as soon as they become available.”

If these sort of incidents put people off going to matches, then whoever is behind this will have won

Omar Othman, Manchester United Supporters Club UAE, head of marketing

This is the first Premier League match to be postponed because of an assumed bomb threat. An exhibition soccer game between Germany and the Netherlands was canceled in November after police said they received a bomb threat. No explosives were immediately found.

Security at Premier League stadiums was increased after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people in November when three teams of attackers targeted the Stade de France sports stadium, cafes and bars, and the Bataclan concert hall.

At the time of the evacuation supporters were outraged that such an incident would happen - believing this was a genuine bomb threat. But were fast to praise the emergency services on twitter:

“It is a concern that this sort of incident might influence people’s decision to travel to games,” Omar Othman, head of marketing at Manchester United’s Supporters Club in the UAE told Al Arabiya English.

“If these sort of incidents put people off going to matches, then whoever is behind this will have won. There needs to be more security, but the reaction of the police was spot on, on this occasion.”

Asked if he thought this might be a disgruntled fan, angered by United’s dismal performance this season, he replied: “To suggest this could be a fan is ridiculous. I cannot see any situation where a supporter would do something as drastic as plant a suspect device in the stadium.”

As police investigate the incident and who was behind the scare, the thoughts of fans now focuses on Saturday when Manchester United are due to play Coventry in the FA Cup final.

“Rescheduling this match is a logistical nightmare,” Othman told Al Arabiya English, “because with the FA Cup coming up this weekend, the only fair thing to do is to postpone until after then. But I cannot see the FA approving that.

“I imagine they will want to see the match rescheduled to sometime like Tuesday evening this week – but that would not be fair of the players.”

Later in the evening the story developed as it became clear that the object found, was in fact a training device used in an exercise at the stadium on Wednesday. It turned out that the fake bomb had been accidently left behind.

The news was met with a mix of embarrassment and support for the emergency services.

The rest of the Premier League games being played on Sunday, the final day of the league season, went ahead as scheduled.

United was vying with Manchester City to finish in fourth place to qualify for the Champions League. United needed to beat Bournemouth and for City to lose at Swansea, but City ended up drawing 1-1.

The Premier League said in a statement that it will look to rearrange the game “as soon as practically possible.”

“It is always the last resort to abandon one of our fixtures and while we apologize for the inconvenience caused to fans, we are sure, in the circumstances, they will appreciate the need to do so,” the Premier League said.

Manchester United later tweeted that the game would be rescheduled to Tuesday, May 17.

(With AP and Reuters)

GALLERY: Manchester United's Old Trafford evacuated after suspect device found

General view as sections of the stadium are evacuated before the match Reuters / Andrew Yates Livepic

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