By Dr John Bahadur Lamb, Lecturer in Criminology and Security Studies at Birmingham City University

The Old Trafford bomb scare was a one off human error which occurred during a training exercise. Such events happen very rarely as the companies which train specialist search dogs usually keep a tight control on all dummy devices. The fact that the fake device was left in place at Old Trafford is indicative of a simple mistake by, most likely, a single employee of the company. What is most likely to have happened is that the training devices were not correctly counted back in at the end of the exercise and this led to one being left behind.

Although a simple mistake it had huge ramifications including a match being cancelled and the Army bomb disposal unit being called. This was a huge waste of resources and this highlights the impact that false alerts and hoaxes can have. In a situation like this, until the device has been examined by an expert it has to be treated as if it is viable and likely to explode. This could have led to a mass panic and it is lucky that the stewards and police at Old Trafford were able to evacuate the fans in such a calm and well-handled manner.

That an evacuation was even needed raises some serious questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of the pre-event search process at Old Trafford. Whilst detailed searches are usually only carried out when specific intelligence has been received indicating an attack is likely, the ground should have been checked prior to the match. Unfortunately the publicly accessible but privately owned nature of football stadiums gives a false sense of security here which may be why the pre-match search appears to have been lacking.

This is due to the fact that football stadiums are difficult to access outside of match days and those given access are trusted individuals or organisations thus owners and security firms will assume that there is a very low risk of anything untoward occurring. It is somewhat ironic that the only match to have been cancelled in 24 years on security grounds was caused by a company contracted to train search dogs which were meant to improve security.

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