The van was left in an underpass under the M1 Dublin-Belfast motorway outside Newry, near the main Dublin-Belfast railway line.
Although two coded telephoned warnings were passed on to the PSNI, motorists and bus drivers were still allowed to drive past the van the following day.
The PSNI claimed their traffic cones had been moved and denied any involvement in the incident, which thet said had been intended to cause an “atrocity”.
They also complained of confusion in that the warnings calls referred to the M1 -- in the Six Counties, the M1 is known as the A1.
Amidst a major media and political campaign against the ‘dissidents’, there have been suggestions the PSNI may be attempting to inflame public sentiment or even hoping for civilian casualties in what is a nationalist area.
Many of the hundreds who drove through the underpass said there had been no indication of a police cordon and were horrified when told they had driven past the van.
“There’s cars driving through over there. There’s kids going to school,” one local resident said.
The incident contrasted sharply with the major and lengthy evacuations carried out by the Crown forces following hoaxes in the past number of weeks. One such incident in north Belfast two weeks ago saw hundred evacuated from their homes area following the discovery of an upturned biscuit tin. The evacuees were kept out of their homes overnight.
With criticism of their actions mounting, the PSNI said it would review the matter.
“Decisions around cordon points and evacuations during any alert are made in line with public safety, security considerations and the safety of officers,” the PSNI said in a statement.
“It is always our intention to minimise the disruption caused to the community in accordance with public safety.”