A South Belfast man who lives opposite where a viable explosive device was found at the weekend has criticised the police response to the incident, claiming the item was left unattended for four hours as the general public walked and drove by it.

John McNamara was returning to his Malone Place home around just before midnight on Friday (September 30) when police stopped him entering his street, which sits between Sandy Row and the Lisburn Road, due to the presence of the device.

After John gained entry to his house he watched as army technical officers (ATO) first seemed to examine the device in an adjacent park, before leaving it unattended for four hours as cars drove in the street and people walked beside it.

The device, which has not been claimed by anyone, caused major disruption. Businesses were evacuated before a controlled explosion was carried out late on Saturday morning. The device was removed for further forensic examination.

“The police wouldn’t tell us where the device was to begin with but around midnight ATO started looking about the small park opposite us with torches,” said John.

“They spent three hours in there, focusing on the one area and so we guessed that’s where the device had been left.

“However about 3am, they gathered up all their gear and left the scene. At 7am we then got a knock on the door and a police officer told us we were being evacuated as the device was in the park opposite our house. This is a busy nightlife area and it was ridiculous to think so many people had been up and down by it while it sat there and could have gone off at any time.”

John, who was left out in the cold with his wife for a time before he insisted he was allowed to retrieve his car so they could keep warm, said the security forces actions were inexplicable.

“They obviously knew it was in there at 3am if they came back to it, so why the street wasn’t sealed off I don’t know. Anything could have set it off and we could have been on the end of it.”

A police spokesperson said public safety “was at the forefront of considerations” at all stages of the operation.

“Cordons were put in place and residents were evacuated, while a detailed search was carried out in the Malone Place/Lisburn Road area. This continued until the early hours of the morning when the search was suspended until daylight, nothing having been found. The scene was contained.

“Public safety was reviewed throughout. Following the resumption of the search, a viable device was found and a controlled explosion was conducted. We are appealing for anyone with information about this incident to come forward.”