Police were doing a sweep of the Cornubia mall after a bomb scare was reported at the Woolworths store. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - Hoax callers making bomb threats could face both criminal prosecution and civil claims for wasted police resources. Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said the police viewed the pranks in a serious light and anyone caught could find themselves in jail.

The police warning came after three hoax calls were made, claiming that there was a bomb inside Woolworths in Cornubia Mall, one in the Commercial City building in the Durban CBD and at the Phoenix police station on Thursday.

Shoppers were evacuated and Cornubia Mall was shut down as police dog and bomb units combed the store. But police did not find anything suspicious during a thorough search. Woolworths said the store had been evacuated to ensure the safety of employees and customers, after a tip-off about a suspicious device in the store was received.

The incident was the fourth bomb scare at a Woolworths store, after one device detonated and caused a fire and another was defused at the Gateway Theatre of Shopping. A device was also found at the chain's Pavilion store.

“We can assure the public that we take the incidents in KZN extremely seriously and we are doing all that we can to ensure the safety of our people and our customers. Due to the sensitivity of the investigation we are unable to divulge the additional protection and detection measures we have put in place in our stores. We continue to work closely with the relevant authorities who are providing input and guidance,” Woolworths said.

A spokesperson for Cornubia Mall management said once police gave the all-clear, the mall was reopened and it was back to business. “There was no bomb found at the mall and it appears to have been a hoax,” the spokesperson said.

KZN VIP chief executive Glen Naidoo said that several security companies, police and emergency medical rescue teams went to the Phoenix police station after it received a call claiming there was a bomb in the building. “The police station was evacuated and searched. Nothing was found and the police station was reopened,” Naidoo said.

Police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo said hoax calls caused needless panic and disruption to business while depleting already stretched police resources.He said it was concerning that during the school holidays, particularly in June and December, there was a 60% spike in hoax calls. He urged parents to raise awareness and to inform their children that making prank calls to the police was a criminal offence.

The Mercury