Bomb scare leaves United red faced

Train­ing de­vice left in toi­let causes cru­cial Bournemouth clash to be called off

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - FRONT PAGE - James Ducker NORTH­ERN FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Old Traf­ford

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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