Old Trafford ‘vulnerability’ is ‘surprising’ says security expert after Manchester United bomb hoax debacle

The level of ‘vulnerability’ that Old Trafford’s bomb hoax debacle highlighted has been described as ‘surprising’ by a senior security expert.

Manchester United’s season-closing fixture against Bournemouth was abandoned on Sunday, and the stadium evacuated, after a suspicious device was discovered in a toilet by a steward.

It was later established that the ‘lifelike’ pipe bomb replica was a prop used by a private company in training exercises during the week – but not before a bomb disposal team had destroyed it with a controlled explosion.

Security consultant and ex-Metropolitan Police Superintendent Simon Turner said that the stadium should never have been opened to the public unless officials were certain that their safety was guaranteed.

“I’m surprised after Paris because stadiums should be on red alert, and every game at Old Trafford is like a cup final because it’s such an iconic stadium,” he said.

“Where they’ve gone wrong is, post the events in Paris, when you have a big game you should be completely satisfied that the stadium is secured before you open the doors.

“Then if you get a bomb hoax, you can make a judgement based upon what you know is in there and what you can reasonably expect to have got in there because of your search regime.

“If you haven’t got a secure stadium before you open the gates, then really you’re a bit screwed. It makes you very, very vulnerable to bomb hoaxes and all sorts.”

Despite the ultimately farcical nature of the hoax, United staff and Greater Manchester Police were praised for their level-headed approach to what at first seemed to be a potentially tragic situation.

And Mr Turner – who recently worked for two years at the head of Wembley’s event security team – believes that the lessons learned from the exercise could prove to be invaluable.

“In the long run this will improve security, because every now and then people need a kick up the arse,” he said.

“They would have learnt an awful lot from the evacuation, it’s a hugely valuable exercise, not just for the stadium but for other agencies as well.

“On the positive side they assessed it, they dealt with it, they evacuated, they made that decision.

“The fact that they made that decision and get on with it says a lot, because a lot of people wouldn’t, a lot of people would be nervous of doing that.

“What they will be doing now is reviewing their security because it’s very rare that you actually get the chance to put an evacuation of a full stadium into place.”

Nevertheless, there will be concerns about the fact that what could have been a pipe bomb was allowed to sit in a 76,000 capacity stadium unchecked for a number of days.

But Mr Turner is confident that there will be no future implications on security – if anything he believes that potential terrorists will now have a harder job targeting sports venues.

“I don’t think in the long-run that could be arranged to happen again, because it’s a random series of events,” he said.

“It will actually make things a little bit more difficult because people will be thinking ‘we cannot afford for that to happen again’.

“If they didn’t know how it got there then they would have had problems.

“But what they’ll take comfort from is that they’ve identified how it got there, it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to cause problems, it was just that safety procedures weren’t carried out as they should have been.”

United’s match against Bournemouth will be replayed on Tuesday night at 8pm, although their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League were dashed as Manchester City avoided defeat at Swansea on Sunday.

Image courtesy of World Wide TV, via YouTube, with thanks

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