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NSW: Overheard phone call sparks building evacuation

Wed Jul 29 17:04:01 EST 2009

SYDNEY, July 29 AAP - An suspicious overheard phone call has led police to evacuate a high-rise building housing Sydney's commonwealth parliamentary offices.

Police say a member of the public alerted them to an apparent threat around 10.30am (AEST) on Wednesday.

But it turned out to be a false alarm.

Superintendent Peter Houlahan told reporters at the scene that a male caller had phoned police after overhearing another man having what sounded like a suspicious phone conversation in Sydney's CBD.

"He (the caller) reported the incident as being a conversation of a threatening nature being had by this person," Supt Houlahan said.

"At the time, the person was carrying a backpack (which) raised his (the caller's) suspicions and he brought that to the attention of the police."

The caller followed the man to 70 Phillip Street, the Sydney home of Australia's federal politicians.

"Given the nature of the conversation and the fact that the way the gentleman conducted himself, police decided to come to 70 Phillip Street and conduct a search of the building," Supt Houlahan said.

The operation included the total evacuation of the building, while the male caller and the 45-year-old backpacker were found a short time later.

However, it transpired that the overheard threat had been misconstrued.

"Police spoke to him (the backpacker) at length. His version of events were valid, were not associated with any threat of any magnitude and that person was released," Supt Houlahan said.

The overheard call was of a "personal" nature, he said.

"The threats, or what was thought to be threats initially, weren't such and nothing more could be taken from that conversation," Supt Houlahan added.

The matter was taken "very seriously" and the same actions would have been taken at any other location, Supt Houlahan said.

Office workers were allowed back in the building at 2.15pm (AEST).