St Giles and Woodstock Road have re-opened to pedestrians and traffic after a “suspicious package” was found at an RAF office this morning.
Prime Minister David Cameron is chairing an emergency meeting of the government’s crisis committee COBRA to discuss the packages, which were also found in Brighton, Slough and Kent.
Most of the police presence, as well as a bomb disposal unit from the Royal Logistics Corps, left the scene at 2.20pm. The pavement outside the RAF building and RBS bank was cordoned off for another two hours but is now open.
The road is open to traffic in both directions. The area was first closed at around 10.30am.
The incident follows other bomb scares in other Army Careers offices this week. A suspect package was found in Chatham, Kent on Tuesday, while another was safely removed from an office in Aldershot, Hampshire yesterday.
A statement by Thames Valley Police and the South East Counter-Terrorism Unit said “the contents of the packages are suspicious in nature”.
“The contents of the packages are suspicious in nature and will now be sent off for forensic examination. 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,” said Det Supt Stan Gilmour.
“When a suspect package is reported we have a routine response which means we may need to evacuate the area if necessary until we can be sure it poses no threat to the public. Whilst this can cause concern and disruption for local communities, it is a necessary precaution until we know what we are dealing with.”
“Advice has been sent to the Royal Mail and to the MOD to ensure staff remain vigilant and contact police if they have any concerns about packages,” he added.
Thames Valley Police were unable to comment on possible sources of the packages. Unconfirmed reports also suggest a remote controlled robot was used by the bomb disposal team.
Students at St Benet’s Hall were unable to re-enter the building while the cordon was in place, and access to other buildings next to the RAF recruitment centre near the junction with Little Clarendon Street was also limited. The Ministry of Defence confirmed that this building was the site of the scare.
Traffic was being diverted via Banbury Road, and the police tape line was extended past St Giles’ Church Hall just before 1pm. According to Twitter, police helicopters were also seen above St Anne’s College.
Until this afternoon, residents and others needing access were able to leave the area behind the barrier, but were not able to re-enter. Just before 12pm, two women were refused access to a building next to St Benet’s by a police officer despite repeated attempts.
Sean Ford, Keble JCR President, was at the scene. He said: “It is quite alarming. I didn’t see at first that it was a bomb disposal unit. It’s concerning that this is happening in Central Oxford where a lot of people pass all the time.”
The incident provoked a strong reaction on Twitter. Oliver Carroll, a Law student at St Anne’s, tweeted: “St. Benet’s hall is being evacuated in Oxford. We may have displaced monks on our hands #OxBomb”.
Simon O’Neill, Editor of the Oxford Mail, said: “Floods, a bomb scare and now it’s snowing in Witney, says @ladylauraprice Tomorrow’s Oxford Mail will be a barrel of laughs. Don’t miss it”.