Old Trafford scare a reminder of new security climate

It may have been the result of a mistake but the evacuation highlights real fears

A bomb-disposal unit outside Old Trafford after the match between Manchester United and Bournemouth was abandoned. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

A bomb-disposal unit outside Old Trafford after the match between Manchester United and Bournemouth was abandoned. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

TV images of Old Trafford being evacuated yesterday when a suspect device was found once again offered a reminder about how even a bomb scare, let alone an explosion, can turn a football game into a major security incident.

A controlled explosion was carried out on the device at the stadium after a huge operation was put in place.

Greater Manchester police described the suspect object as an “incredibly lifelike explosive device”.

However, last night the story took an embarrassing turn for the club and the local police force when it transpired the device had been left behind by a company carrying out a training exercise.

Apparently it had not been taken away as planned after it was used to help train sniffer dogs used to detect explosives.

Greater Manchester police said last night: “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.”

Red faces for the Red Devils aside, the speed at which the final league game of the year between the host club and Bournemouth turned to fear and panic was a reminder and reflection of the heightened security climate in European football ahead of the European Championships next month in France.

Some 148 people were killed in terrorism attacks in France last year alone, meaning that anxiety about security at the Euros has been extreme for many months.

During the attacks in Paris last November, one of the bombers was turned away from the Stade de France after attempting to enter the ground about 20 minutes into the game between France and Germany.

He blew himself up after walking away; two other suicide bombers also detonated their explosives a short time later close to the stadium.

Police believe it was planned that the first bomber would explode his device inside the packed stadium and that when fans rushed out of the grounds the other two bombers would move in and kill people fleeing.

It is those attacks, and the levels of general fear in France, that have given rise to the level of security that will greet Irish fans travelling to the Euros.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, had already announced a “new doctrine for intervention in the event of mass killings”. No place in France will be more than 20 minutes away from an anti-terrorist unit. Dry runs of terrorist strikes with multiple attack locations have been conducted

France is organising 75 war game-style exercises, almost all before Euro 2016. Every host city is required to rehearse their security and medical response to a nuclear, chemical or biological attack.

In Bordeaux, for example, where Ireland play Belgium on June 18th, two terror attack drills have already been held.

In March, security forces evacuated the Gare de Bordeaux-Saint-Jean after the discovery of a (fake) booby- trapped package, then stopped fake clashes in front of the station and apprehended fake terrorists on a TGV train.

Bordeaux exercise

Aside from those drills, the everyday security measures put in place will have an impact on all Irish fans. A “pre-filter” system will require football fans to open bags and coats before they reach ticket windows and metal detectors.

Before last year’s attacks, 200 riot police and gendarmes patrolled outside the Stade de France.

That number has been raised to 575, including a Raid unit, police snipers on the roof and 20 cameras monitoring the flow of spectators. Some 1,200 private security guards will be on duty inside.

The interior ministry has budgeted €2 million for securing “fan zones” in host cities. These are enclosed zones that will be swept for explosives before each match.

Fans will be body-searched and pass through metal detectors. Anti-terrorist forces will also protect 24 camps for the football teams.