A bomb disposal team carried out a controlled explosion on a suspect device – later described as not viable – inside Manchester United’s stadium on Sunday after the club’s English Premier League match against Bournemouth was abandoned.
Two of the Old Trafford stands were evacuated about 20 minutes before the scheduled kick-off at 1400 GMT on discovery of the suspicious package. Soon after, the game was called off and the whole 75,000-seater stadium cleared.
Police investigated the package and used sniffer dogs to search the area, before calling in an army bomb disposal unit. TV footage showed fire engines arriving at the stadium.
“Bomb disposal experts carried out controlled explosion at Old Trafford on what is described as incredibly lifelike explosive device,” Greater Manchester Police said later on Twitter.
“Full assessment now concluded and found device wasn’t viable. A full search of the stadium is ongoing.”
On Wednesday Britain raised the threat level from dissident Northern Ireland militants to “substantial,” meaning an attack on the British mainland is considered a strong possibility.
Manchester United said in a statement on its website the package had been found in the North West Quadrant, and the match abandoned on police advice.
“We don’t make these decisions lightly and we have done this today to ensure the safety of all those attending,” Assistant Chief Constable John O’Hare said in a statement.
United cannot qualify for next season’s Champions League, after Manchester City drew at Swansea City on Sunday. They are sixth in the Premier League table and would move above Southampton into fifth with a draw or victory against Bournemouth.
They play Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final on Saturday and it is not clear when a rescheduled game against Bournemouth, its final Premier League match of the season, will be played.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the Premier League said it would seek to rearrange the fixture “as soon as practically possible”.
“When it comes to matters of security it is obviously right that Manchester United and the Premier League place the safety of supporters and employees foremost,” it said.
“It is always the last resort to abandon one of our fixtures.”