A suspicious package that caused the evacuation and cancellation of Manchester United’s final Premier League game of the season turned out to be a fake bomb from a training exercise that was accidentally left behind in the stadium.
The package, which was destroyed in a controlled explosion, was left behind by a private contractor that had been conducting a security exercise with bomb-sniffing dogs.
“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,” said the Greater Manchester police in a statement.
“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.”
Police first described the object as “incredibly lifelike” and said it was an “explosive device”, but found it was in fact “not viable” to explode.
Before the match with Bournemouth, two stands at Old Trafford – which has the capacity to hold more than 75,000 fans – were evacuated after the package was found.
The match was later cancelled entirely, just minutes before it was scheduled to begin.
Around 90 minutes later, the controlled explosion took place.
An “operation red code” was announced over the ground’s PA system, 20 minutes before the scheduled kickoff, according to BBC Sport.
“Due to the discovery of a suspect package in the north-west quadrant of the ground, the match has been abandoned for today on police advice,” the club announcer said.
“People in the stadium are advised to remain in their seats while the forecourt is cleared of fans evacuated from the stadium. Further announcements will be made as soon as possible.”
Police said that the threat of terrorism in the area remains severe. “We would not take any chances,” they added.
A spokesperson for the Premier League said that the organisation chose to cancel the game as it puts “the safety of supporters and employees foremost”.
“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,” said the statement.