- Stands at Old Trafford dramatically evacuated after 'code red' alert because of 'incredibly lifelike explosive device'
- Mobile phone attached to wiring said to have been discovered in toilets during Manchester United's final-day clash
- Match was postponed for 45 minutes but staff later abandoned game altogether, sending away thousands of fans
- Police and sniffer dogs deployed to ground, which has capacity for 76,000, and a controlled explosion carried out
- Sportsmail understands the scare was caused by a dummy device left in a toilet by mistake after a training exercise
- Greater Manchester Police assistant chief constable John O'Hare later confirmed Sportsmail's exclusive story
Manchester United had to abandon Sunday’s Premier League clash with Bournemouth because a dummy device was left in the stadium by mistake after a training exercise, Sportsmail has learned.
Old Trafford was evacuated after a mobile phone was found strapped to piping. The match, which was being broadcast on Sky Sports, was postponed before a bomb disposal unit carried out a controlled explosion.
The results of the explosion showed the device was actually a mock-up, described by police as ‘incredibly lifelike’.
In what appears to be a staggering blunder, the ‘bomb’ was left at the stadium in error by an external training company in the days leading up to the game. A training exercise was held at the venue and the device, designed to look authentic, was not returned at its conclusion.
The match will be replayed on Tuesday night.
Greater Manchester Police assistant chief constable John O'Hare later confirmed Sportsmail's exclusive story.
In a statement he said: '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.
'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.'
One security official, who saw the device, said: ‘It certainly did not look like something you would want to mess with.’
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GREATER MANCHESTER POLICE CONFIRM OUR EXCLUSIVE STORY
The Premier League felt abandoning the fixture had been the right course of action after discussions with both clubs and the police.
‘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,’ the League said in a statement.
‘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.’
An expected crowd of 76,000 were settling into their seats when a steward spotted the device and raised the alarm. After a police officer trained in recognising suspect packages inspected the find and decided it looked viable, the bomb disposal unit was called for.
Players were kept inside the stadium while fans dispersed as the device, on the opposite side of the ground from the dressing rooms, was not thought to be big enough to threaten their safety even if it was authentic.
Police had told fans to stay away as detectives and sniffer dogs flooded the stadium to carry out their investigations and a warning was broadcast to those inside 30 minutes before kick-off.
Stewards ushered around 20,000 from the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and the Stretford End when the warning was announced.
At about 3.20pm, the remaining fans from all the stands began to filter out of the ground — with the stadium’s PA system informing supporters of the latest information.
The controlled explosion was carried out at around 4.45pm.
Bournemouth flew back to the south coast following the abandonment. Manager Eddie Howe said: ‘The players were doing their warm-up as normal and everything was good. Then, they came in early and we were a little unsure what was happening at that time.
‘Word got back to us that there had been a suspect package spotted and there was going to be a 45-minute delay to the game at that point so we were prepared for that. Very quickly it became apparent the game was not going to take place.
‘There was no way we were going to leave Old Trafford at that time due to the traffic and cordoned-off areas around the ground. United treated us very well. They put us in a nice area and we were able to relax and see what was going to happen next.
‘We decided to come back to Bournemouth because there was no sign of the game being played the next day.’
With tension high, extra measures were introduced. Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness claimed he and Thierry Henry were searched amid heightened security ahead of the evacuation.
As supporters left the stadium, there was inevitably disappointment that the game did not go ahead.
Sam Stride, a United supporter from Bristol, said: ‘Unbelievable. This is the first time I have been to Old Trafford to see a game. My mate and I have known each other for 63 years and we travelled up from Bristol together.
‘We sat in the Stretford End for about five seconds before they asked us to leave. It’s very disappointing.’
Billy Ifrose, from Cardiff, said: ‘I came on a coach from Cardiff. It is the first time I have been to see Manchester United live. It is a beautiful day and I am a bit sad.’
The man, known as ‘Moses’, who works in security in the west African country, had been invited by friends at the Manchester United Supporters Trust and some of their members were quick to step in to ease his disappointment.
They have offered to pay for a later return flight home and to fix him up with a ticket for next week’s FA Cup final at Wembley between United and Crystal Palace.
Ian Stirling, vice-chair of MUST, said: ‘A friend of mine worked with Moses in Sierra Leone and he said he should come over some time for a game. The poor lad was distraught — being so close to the ground and not being able to go in, not knowing when he might get this chance again. We’ve agreed to rearrange his flight and sort him out with a ticket for the FA Cup final. A couple of friends will put him up in Manchester as well. He’s still distraught at not getting into Old Trafford — that was his dream — but we’re trying to do the right thing for a friend.’