The high-tech game of hide and seek that sparked a bomb scare

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A SUSPICIOUS package blown up by the Army during a full-scale bomb alert in Wetherby has been revealed to be part of an internet treasure hunt game.

Now the Wetherby café owner who reported the package -which was blown up in a controlled explosion - is calling for tighter controls to stop the game bringing mayhem to the streets of the town again.

Wetherby town centre was brought to a standstill last Friday when police evacuated buildings and sealed off Market Square, Cross Street and the Shambles.

Hundreds of shoppers, workers and residents had their day disrupted by the chaos at peak trading times as the area was sealed off by police.

The package, which has now been confirmed as part of a little-known treasure-hunt game called Geogcaching, was later destroyed in a controlled explosion by bomb squad experts who were called to the scene at around 12.50pm.

It is believed to be the first time the game has led to a controlled explosion in the UK.

The suspicious looking package was reported to Wetherby Police at around 11.30am by the owner of Gourmet Cafe Karen Brittain, who told police a man had been acting suspiciously, talking on his mobile phone and then placing a plastic box underneath a planter opposite the cafe.

Karen told the Wetherby News more distinctive markings need to be made on the internet game to prevent this happening again.

“I don’t want to criticise people who play this game, it looks fun, especially for children, but I think it needs clearer markings on the sides of the box.

“When I first noticed this package we could not see the top of it and obviously did not want to touch it, which is where the misunderstanding has come in. I had never heard of this game before, maybe if it had been made clearer we would have looked it up and known, I still think that I made the right decision in calling the police, what would have happened if I hadn’t bothered and a bomb had gone off in the centre of Wetherby? That doesn’t bear thinking about.”

The treasure hunt game, which has been available to play since May 2000, uses GPS and satellite devices to hide and seek containers anywhere in the world. It is described by gaming experts as ‘high-tech hide and seek.’

Businesses in Market Square were most affected with trade stopping for a period of around four hours on the day while buildings were evacuated.

Landlord at The Black Bull Inn, Clive Metcalf, said police did the right thing in evacuating his pub. He said: “It is better to be safe than sorry in the end so I think the police definitely did the right thing by coming up here and acting so quickly.”

Chief Inspector Mick Hunter, who lead the police operation in Wetherby, said: “Anyone living locally will have seen the disruption and inconvenience this caused and I would ask those who take part in the Geocaching game to use their common sense when placing items.

“Our advice would be to not place the items in urban areas or locations where they are likely to cause alarm.

“The vast majority of people are unaware how the game works and, as happened last week, they can be understandably concerned to see someone attempting to hide a taped up box within a public area.

“The Explosive Ordnance Team that carried out the controlled explosion could have been needed elsewhere at that particular point to deal with a real device.

“Fortunately that was not the case but I want to avoid the chance of that happening at any point in the future.”

sarah.dawson@ypn.co.uk