Monday morning update, via AFP:
A fake bomb accidentally left behind after a terror training exercise forced police to evacuate Manchester United's stadium and call off their season-ending game against Bournemouth on Sunday in what was slammed as a "fiasco" by the city's mayor.
Army disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion in Old Trafford stadium toilets of the suspicious device, later revealed as a fake which was left there four days earlier by a private security company.
The stadium scare, which follows deadly attacks in Paris and Belgium over the past year, forced the evacuation of the 75,600-seat ‘Theatre of Dreams’ and the game’s postponement until Tuesday evening.
The deeply embarrassing incident for United and the security firm was compounded by the vast expense and inconvenience suffered by the capacity crowd.
Among the disappointed fans were 3,500 Bournemouth supporters who were left facing a wasted round trip of 500 miles (800 kilometres) from the south coast.
Manchester, one of England’s major cities, was also the setting last week for a series of mock terror attacks designed to test the responses of emergency services.
Tony Lloyd, Greater Manchester’s mayor and the elected police and crime commissioner for the region, called the incident “outrageous” and called for a full inquiry.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
Police initially said they had discovered an “incredibly lifelike explosive device”, prompting them to issue a “code red” alert 20 minutes before the scheduled 3pm local time (6pm UAE) kick-off, with some players already warming up on the pitch.
A club employee found what was described as a mobile phone attached to gas pipes during a routine sweep of the north-west corner of Old Trafford, a source told the BBC.
But later Greater Manchester Police said the controlled explosion that took place to neutralise the device was carried out on a dummy bomb.
GMP Assistant Chief Constable John O’Hare 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.”
Sunday’s incident was Manchester United’s second security scare of the week after their team bus was attacked by West Ham fans on Tuesday.
“We’re still in the dressing room, seems we’ll be the last to leave. There’s been nerves and tension,” United midfielder Ander Herrera told Spanish radio during the evacuation.
Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward thanked police and fans, and promised an investigation.
“The club takes security very seriously and staff are regularly trained with the police and emergency services to identify and deal with these incidents,” he said.
“We will investigate the incident to inform future actions and decisions.”
United had hoped to win on Sunday and finish fourth in the English Premier League, but after the day’s other results they will need a freakishly large win on Tuesday to take the final Champions League spot.
Manchester United said on their website that ticket holders would be entitled to refunds and free entry to Tuesday’s rearranged fixture.
Original Sunday night report:
Kick-off never took place.
Fans in The Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and the Stretford End were evacuated about 30 minutes before the scheduled kick-off time of 3 pm local time (6pm UAE). Fans in other stands were allowed to stay inside the stadium.
A live BeIn Sports broadcast report said the suspect package had been found in the north-west corner of the ground. Police and sniffing dogs were canvassing the evacuated stands.
The National correspondent Andy Mitten Tweeted: "Told by reliable sources that bomb squad in attendance at OT (Old Trafford). Relates to mobile phone device. Might have to carry out controlled explosion."
The Premier League has issued a statement: The decision to abandon the Manchester United versus AFC Bournemouth match was taken after the police advised of the necessity to deal with a suspect package.
“When it comes to matters of security it is obviously right that Manchester United and the Premier League place the safety of supporters and employees foremost.
“The Premier League will seek to rearrange the fixture as soon as practically possible and will advise fans accordingly. It is always the last resort to abandon one of our fixtures and while we apologise for the inconvenience caused to fans we are sure, in the circumstances, they will appreciate the need to do so.”
Manchester United, via their Twitter account, have confirmed a controlled explosion was carried out of the suspicious package.
UPDATE, via AFP:
Experts blew up an “incredibly lifelike explosive device” which forced the evacuation of Old Trafford stadium ahead of Manchester United’s Premier League match against Bournemouth on Sunday.
“Bomb disposal experts carried out controlled explosion at Old Trafford on what is described as incredibly lifelike explosive device,” Greater Manchester Police said on its Twitter account.
They added: “Full assessment now concluded and found device wasn’t viable. A full search of the stadium is ongoing.”
The emergency was signalled just 20 minutes before the scheduled start of what should have been United’s final home game this season in the 75,600 capacity stadium.
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