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10th May 2016

Scarily real footage of police anti-terror exercise at Trafford Centre shopping centre

It involved a real explosion, real police, and 800 volunteers

Nooruddean Choudry

This all looks a little too realistic.

Greater Manchester’s Trafford Centre is one of the largest indoor shopping centres in Europe, boasting 280 stores and parking for over 11,000 customer cars. On busy days, there are more people milling about than most football matches. In a perverse way, that makes it the ideal location for an anti-terror training exercise for our emergency services.

Following recent attacks on Paris and Belgium, the UK is on high alert. We must prepare for every eventuality, and that means training sessions that are as real as possible. It’s the only way that the relevant agencies can properly test their responses.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Trafford Centre was witness to one of the most realistic anti-terror training exercises conducted on these shores, with over 800 volunteers acting as innocent shoppers, and emergency services rushing to the scene.

Although it was all fake, the pictures and footage are jarringly real. There was a real explosion, dozens of officers from Manchester and Merseyside police racing to the scene, the NW Counter Terrorism Unit placing the area in lockdown, and even mocked up casualties.

The precise details of the scenario were kept from the acting shoppers and emergency services to see how they would react, and Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Rebekah Sutcliffe confirmed: “This exercise is part of a national programme that has been planned extensively for five months.”

She also stressed the exercise was purely preemptive and wasn’t indicative of the Trafford Centre being a specific target: “I want to make it clear that this is not linked to any specific terror threat or attack, but is an opportunity for us to make sure we are in the best position possible, should a terrorist attack happen in the North West.”