Immigration officers have arrested a lorry driver after 27 suspected migrants were found in the back of his vehicle on the M6, forcing part of the motorway to be shut in both directions.
The lorry was stopped by Staffordshire Police between junctions 15 and 16 at around 5.15pm on Wednesday.
The road was closed in both directions for several hours, but both carriageways have now re-opened.
All those on board the lorry are understood to have been medically assessed at the scene and transferred to immigration officials for interview, while the suspect – a 42-year-old man – is questioned on suspicion of facilitating the illegal entry of persons unknown to the UK.
One witness, Gareth Condliffe, told Sky News that he saw officers searching a number of lorries.
He said: “I was on my way home when suddenly the route on my satnav went red and everything stopped.
“I must have been stuck for about an hour and by the time I got to the front I could see the police were pulling in all the lorries and checking in the back of them.
“They were taking them in to the inside lane and trying to direct the traffic around them, but it was causing huge tailbacks. There was a police helicopter flying overhead as well, going over all the traffic.”
Another motorist, Martin Kavanagh, saw several suspected migrants being unloaded from the back of a lorry on the northbound carriageway.
He told Sky News at 7pm he had been stationary for about an hour-and-a-half, having left his office in Coventry at around 3pm to get back home to Bolton.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Ambulance crews joined officers on the scene and a police helicopter was also been spotted overhead.
Deputy Chief Constable Nick Baker, said: “We recognise the disruption this has caused to road users and we’d like to thank the public for their patience and co-operation.
“We were acting on information where there was real concern for people in distress and therefore it was necessary for us to take immediate and appropriate action.
“The response to this incident has involved multiple forces, agencies and partners and I’d like to thank those organisations for their help and assistance.”
Burton Albion fans heading north to watch their side take on Manchester City in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup were among those who reported getting stuck in the jam.
Hundreds were yet to arrive at the Etihad as the first-leg match kicked off as planned at 7.45pm, and may well have been glad not to have made it as their side fell to a humbling 9-0 defeat against the Premier League champions.