A BOMB scare that closed St Giles in Oxford for more than two hours was last night being linked to Northern Ireland-related terrorism.
A suspicious package was posted to an Army recruitment office along with six others across the UK – from Kent to Sussex. Police forensics officers were last night examining the device after it was taken away from the site, but counter-terrorism police were still trying to establish exactly who was responsible.
Downing Street last night said the packages had the hallmarks of Northern Ireland-related terrorism.
One of the packages was stamped with an Republic of Ireland postmark, but no specific group has so far claimed responsibility for the attacks.
A No.10 spokesman said: “Seven suspect packages have been identified as containing small, crude, but potentially viable devices bearing the hallmarks of Northern Ireland-related terrorism.”
A bomb disposal officer using a remote controlled robot at the Army recruitment office in St Giles
The suspicious package arrived at the St Giles careers office yesterday morning – shutting off the street for more than two hours while bomb disposal experts investigated.
Police, firefighters, the military and paramedics swooped on the city centre street and evacuated nearby buildings following the alert shortly after 11am.
Mike Davey, catering manager at Oxford University’s St Benet’s Hall, said everyone was told to get out of the building.
He said: “We just dropped everything and got out.”
Similar alerts were sparked when devices arrived at Army offices in Slough, Brighton and Canterbury.
Bomb disposal officers prepare the remote controlled robot
It came after similar packages appeared at military offices in Aldershot on Wednesday and both Reading and Chatham in Kent on Tuesday.
Yesterday Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee to discuss the parcels.
A bomb disposal robot was sent inside the Oxford Army office as onlookers gathered and waited at the police cordon.
Chris Bridgwood, 20, a student at St Benet’s Hall, was in the library when he noticed the police.
He said: “From then on, it seems to have escalated hugely.”
But police last night said the packages – which are now due to be forensically examined – were unlikely to cause any harm.
Det Supt Stan Gilmour, of the South East Counter Terrorism Unit, said: “Even if the contents are determined to be a viable device, they pose a very low-level threat and are unlikely to cause significant harm or damage.”
He said the wide police cordon and evacuations were a “routine response”, adding: “Whilst this can cause concern and disruption for local communities, it is a necessary precaution until we know what we are dealing with.”
Police evacuate nearby buildings
Ministry of Defence, Royal Mail and Post Office staff have now all been warned to stay vigilant and contact the police with concerns.
Supt Christian Bunt, Oxford area commander, said there would be additional police patrols in the area over the next few days to reassure residents.
Oxford City Council leader Bob Price yesterday condemned whoever was behind the scare.
He said: “Whatever their motivations, whatever their targets are, it is going to hit people who are not involved in the activity they are trying to target. It is the hurting of these people that is so unacceptable.”
American tourist Lori Ringhand, 47, said: “If there is a risk of harm to people, that’s a concern.”