Manchester United evacuates stadium after suspicious package found

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

MANCHESTER, England -- A bomb disposal unit carried out a controlled explosion at Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium on Sunday, after a suspect package was discovered inside the venue before the Premier League game between United and Bournemouth.

Military personnel were dispatched to the stadium after the game was postponed following an evacuation of spectators from two stands - The Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and the Stretford End - about 30 minutes before the scheduled kickoff time of 3 p.m. local time (1400 GMT).

Players from both teams were taken off the pitch during the warm-up and kept in the changing rooms. They were then let out while spectators were also being evacuated.

"We are doing everything we can to investigate this item as quickly as possible, however our priority is obviously to ensure the safety of everyone in the stadium and surrounding area," said John O'Hare, assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester Police.

United said the package was "found in the North West Quadrant" of Old Trafford, which has a capacity of more than 75,000 seats. Fans sitting in other stands initially had been allowed to stay inside the stadium.

There was a strong police presence outside Old Trafford and fire engines attended the scene. Sniffer dogs were also seen inside the stadium.

Greater Manchester Police said on its Twitter page that people should "avoid the area if possible."

The match was one of 10 taking place on the final day of the Premier League season. The other nine matches went ahead.

United was vying with Manchester City to finish in fourth place in the Premier League and qualify for the Champions League. City drew 1-1 at Swansea, effectively ending United's top-four chances.

The Premier League said in a statement that it will look to rearrange the game "as soon as practically possible."

"It is always the last resort to abandon one of our fixtures and while we apologize for the inconvenience caused to fans, we are sure, in the circumstances, they will appreciate the need to do so," the Premier League said.

The league said that "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."

United is scheduled to play Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

It is the first Premier League match to be postponed because of a bomb threat. An exhibition soccer game between Germany and the Netherlands was canceled in November after police said they received a bomb threat. No explosives were immediately found.

The most high-profile British sporting event to be postponed in similar circumstances was the Grand National horse race in Liverpool in 1997. On that occasion, an IRA bomb threat forced the evacuation of Aintree racecourse, where 60,000 spectators were attending. The race was staged two days later.

Security at Premier League stadiums was increased after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people in November when three teams of attackers targeted the Stade de France sports stadium, cafes and bars, and the Bataclan concert hall.