A SUITCASE left outside a shop sparked a two-hour evacuation of Hartlepool’s Middleton Grange Shopping Centre.
One area of the centre was closed off after what was dubbed as a “suspicious package” was spotted outside Holland & Barrett health food shop.
Shortly afterwards police and the centre’s management evacuated the whole of the complex as officers dealt with the package with sniffer dogs.
The suitcase was spotted at around 1.30pm yesterday and it wasn’t until 3.30pm before staff and shoppers were allowed back into the centre after the scare.
Police officers spent the time looking through the shopping centre’s CCTV footage to see who had left the suitcase in the spot.
Shopper Sheila Hockborn, 73, who lives in the Throston area of town, said: “The shopping centre was quite busy and suddenly staff started telling everyone to move away from the stretch where Holland & Barrett is and that they were evacuating the area.
“It was about 10 or 15 more minutes before they evacuated the full centre.
“People didn’t seem to panic though. Everyone was quite relaxed.”
Firefighters from Stranton Fire Station were alerted to the scare and were on standby if they were needed at the scene.
Cleveland Police said the bomb disposal squad was not required.
A force spokesman said emergency procedures were instigated as soon as they learned about the package.
The spokeswoman said: “Police were called to a suspicious package in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, namely a suitcase left outside a shop.
“As a result, emergency procedures were instigated.”
Centre manager Mark Rycraft said staff immediately contacted emergency services and evacuated the centre.
He added: “Staff train for such possible events on a fortnightly basis and I am delighted with how calmly and efficiently they dealt with the situation.
“The police swept the area with sniffer dogs and it was found that the package was not a threat and tenants and shoppers were allowed back into the centre as soon as possible. We really appreciated the professionalism of our staff working alongside Cleveland Police and also the patience and understanding of the public and our tenants in a situation where we had no other option but to put safety first.”