A lorry driver is being questioned by police after 27 suspected migrants were found in the back of his HGV on the M6.
The motorway was closed in both directions after officers stopped and searched the lorry at around 5.15pm on Wednesday.
Drivers reported seeing people jumping from the back of the lorry before police rushed in near Stoke-on-Trent, while a helicopter was deployed to search the nearby area.
All of those on board were medically assessed and transferred to immigration officials for interview, it is understood.
The driver, who was arrested by Staffordshire Police, is being quizzed by immigration enforcement officers.
More than a dozen police cars were spotted racing to the scene as hundreds of football fans trying to reach the Etihad Stadium for Manchester City’s Carabao Cup semi-final with Burton were stuck.
Drivers reported seeing what they believed were migrants being lined up at the side of the road.
Danny Ellis, who was a few hundred yards from the incident, said he saw 30 to 40 police cars pass him on the northbound side of the motorway and said three or four lorries were stopped and searched.
Drivers said they saw migrants lined up at the side of the M6 after they were sat in queues for hours
People were seen at the side of the road with police and ambulance staff. They are believed to be migrants
‘We could only see the lorries being chased down and stopped but we couldn’t see people running away,’ he said.
‘We were told for safety to get back in our cars and lock them. We were told a lot of people escaped and ran from the back of these lorries.’
The 30-year-old, who works in the telecoms industry, said he could see men being treated by ambulance medics on the floor.
Martin Kavanagh was on his way home from Coventry when he got caught in the tailback.
He told Sky News: ‘It looks to me like east African refugees, one lying on the hard shoulder, several have been taken into ambulances, there was one at large on the far side of the opposite southbound carriageway and police apprehended that individual and brought him back over.
Lorries on the M6 are being searched after police closed both sections of the road over the ‘major’ incident
‘There are multiple lorries involved. There are lots of police and paramedics here and they’ve done a super job, but we have not been given any communication from the police.
‘One or two people have gone up to the police, but they have kept them at a sensible distance and sent them back to their vehicles.
‘I’m now four hours into my journey with no sign of the motorway being cleared.’
A statement from the Central Motorway Police Group (CMPG) said there was an ‘ongoing major incident on the M6 near Stoke-on-Trent.’
One motorist reports seeing 22 police vehicles making their way to the scene Highways England first reported the incident was affecting traffic on the Northbound carriageway between junction 15 and junction 16 at around 4pm – with 90 minute delays currently reported on the route.
A Highways England spokesman said: ‘The M6 is closed in both directions between junction 15 and Junction 16 (Stoke-on-Trent) due to a Staffordshire Police led incident.’
A police helicopter has been sighted in the area while local people said nearby woodland and grass areas were being searched in the dark.
One motorist said he is in the queue but has not seen any other emergency services, except police.
He wrote on Twitter: ‘It doesn’t look like an accident – just cops – no ambulances or fire engines.’
He later added: ‘HGVs being pulled over by the cops in droves. Rolling police roadblock! Looks like cops acting on some sort of intel.’
Queues are forming along the motorway as two hour delays are being reported. Diversions have been set up around the A500
Drivers were stuck in the queue for hours on Wednesday evening as hundreds headed to the Carabao Cup tie
‘Road users intending on using this section of road are advised to allow plenty of extra time for their journey and to consider alternative routes (if possible).’
Hundreds of football fans are currently heading to the Carabao Cup tie between Burton Albion and Manchester City. Many have been stuck at Keele Service station for more than an hour.
Many fans missed the game altogether.
Gym manager Ray Burge, 57, spent four hours stranded on the M6 trying to get from work in Nottingham to the Etihad Stadium before turning back at 9pm. ‘It’s been absolutely pointless,’ the City fan said.
‘It was dripping along very slowly and then came to a complete standstill at about 4.50pm.’
Delays of more than two hours were being reported in the area.
A Staffordshire Police spokesman said: ‘Officers from Staffordshire Police have stopped a vehicle on the M6 between Junctions 15 and 16 this evening (9 January) and a number of people have exited the back of the vehicle.
‘A man has been arrested at the scene and is currently in police custody. Colleagues from Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and West Midlands
‘Police and partners are assessing the welfare of the people who exited the vehicle and we will be liaising with our colleagues in Immigration Enforcement.
‘The southbound carriageway is now open and the northbound carriageway remains closed for the time being. We recognise the disruption this is causing to road users and we thank everyone for their co-operation.’
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