Bomb scare leaves United red faced
Training device left in toilet causes crucial Bournemouth clash to be called off
A farcical security blunder led to Manchester United’s final Premier League game of the season being cancelled yesterday after a private security firm forgot to remove a fake bomb taped to the back of a toilet door as part of a training exercise at Old Trafford.
The astonishing error had sparked fears of another potential terrorist attack and resulted in the match against Bournemouth being called off as tens of thousands of fans were evacuated from one of the world’s most famous sports grounds.
A bomb disposal unit carried out a controlled explosion after what had been described as a fake but “incredibly lifelike” bomb was discovered in the north west quadrant at Old Trafford in the run up to kick-off of a game attended by around 76,000 fans.
But it later emerged during an investigation by Greater Manchester Police that the dummy device had been left by an external company following a training drill involving sniffer dogs. It is thought that the company responsible only owned up to the blunder after being contacted by officers.
Tony Lloyd, Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner, condemned the incident as “outrageous” and a “fiasco” and demanded a full inquiry into an “unacceptable” situation that he claimed put people in “unnecessary danger” and proved a waste of police time and resources. Ander Herrera, the United midfielder, said the mood had been “very tense” in the dressing room and that players were “nervous” about the events unfolding.
This was the first time in 24 years that a Premier League match had been cancelled on security grounds and provided a dramatic, disturbing and ultimately embarrassing end to one of the most unpredictable top flight seasons in memory. Ed Woodward, the United executive vice chairman, said a full investigation would be launched with senior sources at the club admitting there was “anger” that such a situation had arisen.
“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,” he said.
“The club takes security very seriously and staff are regularly trained with the police and emergency services to identify and deal with these incidents. We will investigate the incident to inform future actions and decisions.”
It remains to be seen if the security company at the centre of the controversy has its contract with United cancelled and what compensation claims may follow.
The Premier League announced last night that the fixture had been rescheduled for 8pm tomorrow following talks between senior officials from United and Bournemouth and GMP.
The drama yesterday began unfolding when tens of thousands of supporters in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and Stretford End started being evacuated around 20 minutes before the match was due to kickoff, with United formally announcing over the stadium PA system that the game was off at 3.19pm. At that point, fans in the north and east stands were evacuated as part of a careful strategy to avoid any crushes and disperse people safely. Both teams are thought to have remained in their dressing rooms for about 40 minutes before being moved to an executive suite.
Some United players are believed to have watched Manchester City’s game at Swansea City live on television with their local rival’s 1-1 draw effectively ending any hopes Louis van Gaal had of finishing in the top four and damaging his prospects of keeping his job.
Army bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion of the suspect package, which had been discovered by a member of United’s staff.
GMP said a detailed examination of the package, which is thought to have consisted of a mobile phone taped to the back of a toilet door, was not “viable” as a full search of Old Trafford continued to check no other devices had been planted.
But John O’Hare, assistant chief constable of GMP, later admitted that the item was “a training device which had accidentally been left by a private company following a training exercise involving explosive search dogs”.
He added: “Whilst this item did not turn out to be a viable explosive device, 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.”
Lloyd reacted furiously to the news. “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,” he said.
“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.”
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