Police appeal over 'elaborate' Canterbury hoax

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The Independent Online

Police today appealed for information to identify the culprit behind an "elaborate hoax" after two suspicious devices closed down parts of a city centre.

Areas of Canterbury in Kent were evacuated last night after a suspicious package was found near a railway line and a suspicious fire was started in a Marks and Spencer store.

Speaking at a press conference, Assistant Chief Constable Andy Adams, of Kent Police, said the fire had also involved a hoax device.

He said: "Yesterday afternoon we took two calls, one about a suspicious device on the railway line near Old Dover Road shortly after 4.20pm, and one about a small fire in Marks and Spencer shortly before 5.20pm.

"We responded immediately to both calls with our colleagues from other emergency services.

"I am now in a position to say that the first suspicious package on the railway line has been checked by Army bomb disposal experts and is not - as has been reported - an explosive device.

"We are satisfied it is in fact a hoax package designed to appear like a device.

"Bomb disposal experts have also checked a package associated with the fire in the baby changing room on the second floor of Marks and Spencer. This has also proved to be a hoax device."

He added that while dealing with the incidents police received a number of other calls relating to suspicious activity including one at Kent Cricket Ground.

The ground, which is in the city, yesterday saw India take on Kent but Mr Adams said there was not believed to have been any direct threat to the Indian cricket team.

Speaking at a local police station, Mr Adams added: "I'm happy that the two incidents must be connected and the reason that I say that - in my 26 years of policing experience I can't remember an incident where we've had one bomb hoax followed by another in quick succession, so I'd be extremely surprised if they were unconnected.

"Our prime focus at this moment in time is to gather every bit of information that we can, identify a suspect or suspects and then do everything we can to lock them up.

"Bomb hoax is a serious offence and carries a weighty sentence.

"We will be doing everything we can to identify and prosecute whoever is responsible for the disruption caused last night and I would like the public to call us on 01622 690690 if they have any information that may help."

Kent Fire and Rescue Service was called to Marks and Spencer in St George's Street after staff discovered a small fire in the baby changing area on the second floor. It was quickly put out and the store was evacuated.

St George's Street and part of Old Dover Road, where the suspicious package was found, were closed while the bus station, Rose Square and Marlowe Arcade were evacuated.

Mr Adams said that at the incident's height around 100 officers were deployed, along with colleagues from British Transport Police (BTP) and Army bomb disposal experts.

Parts of St George's Street and Old Dover Road remain cordoned off today as police focus their investigations there.

Canterbury East train station also remains closed but train services were expected to return to normal by midday, according to police. PA