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Mayor slams major English soccer team over fake bomb "fiasco"

Sections of Old Trafford stadium are evacuated before the match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth on May 15, 2016, in Manchester, England.

Reuters/Andrew Yates

LONDON - The mayor of greater Manchester on Monday demanded an inquiry into a security "fiasco" that saw Manchester United's stadium evacuated after a fake bomb was left behind from a security training exercise.

The discovery of the realistic-looking dummy bomb on Sunday prompted the evacuation of the 75,000-seat Old Trafford stadium minutes before Manchester United's last game of the season was due to start. Army bomb disposal experts blew up the fake device, described by police as "incredibly lifelike."

The game was abandoned shortly before kickoff, and long after fans had begun filling the stadium for the team's regular season finale. The match has been rescheduled for Tuesday.

"Fiasco is the right word," Mayor Tony Lloyd said. "It was shambolic."

John O'Hare, Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, said that "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."

Police said the device discovered in a toilet just before kickoff was left by a private company after a drill using search dogs last week.

British media identified the firm involved as Security Search Management and Solutions, which conducted an exercise last week with Manchester United's search-dog teams. The firm's managing director, Chris Reid, said he would like to say more about the "security situation" but that he is waiting for Manchester United to contact him.

"It is a very unfortunate situation and the consequences obviously were that a lot of people were inconvenienced," Reid said. "Fortunately everybody was fine, which is the most important thing."

Lloyd praised the police response but said the incident had put people in danger. He said Manchester United needed to come up with some answers.

"What's almost impossible to understand is how in placing so many dummies for an exercise, those dummies were not counted in again and in counting them in, to find that one is missing," he said.

He added that security should have found the item, "long before 20 minutes before kick-off of a major game at a time when already tens of thousands of people were in the ground."

Lloyd said that while the focus is on security right now, there are further questions on who will pay for the large police and Army deployment over the scare.

Sunday's evacuation came amid tightened security at Premier League stadiums following last year's Paris attacks that targeted the Stade de France stadium during an international friendly match, as well as cafes, bars and a concert hall.

Britain last week upgraded the threat of an attack on the mainland from Northern Irish militants from moderate to substantial, meaning an attack is a strong possibility.

The Provisional Irish Republican Army has observed a cease-fire since July 1997 and renounced violence in 2005, but several rival factions opposed to Northern Ireland's peace process have mounted gun and bomb attacks on police and security officials in recent years.

The threat level to the U.K. from international terrorism stands at severe - the second highest point on a five-point scale - meaning an attack is "highly likely."