Fake cigarette triggers terror alert in London

Jul 06, 2012, 07:29 IST | Agencies

A smoker's health aid sparked a terror scare on board a coach and caused chaos on the M6 road, one of the country's busiest motorways

Armed police swooped on a coach and shut down a motorway after a passenger spotted another person craftily smoking a fake cigarette into a bag and mistook it for a terror threat. After closing the road for more than four hours, police admitted the alert — which was treated like a major chemical incident — was sparked by a ‘health improvement aid for smokers’.

Chemical scare: A bomb squad approaches the Megabus coach on the M6 toll road after the passengers were evacuated.

It is understood one passenger had been inhaling the device, which emits water vapour and is legal to smoke on board a vehicle, covered by a bag so those around were not able to properly see. Almost 50 passengers were evacuated, as officers boarded the vehicle after a passenger raised the alarm and ordered the driver to stop.

But nearly four hours after passengers were ordered off the coach by armed officers in a dramatic operation that saw firefighters set up decontamination tents on the tarmac, police admitted that no one was in danger at any time.

Passengers are held in a special cordon, as police keep watch on them after they were ordered off the Megabus in Staffordshire. Pics/Getty Images

The coach, which was operated by Megabus, was travelling south from Preston to London and had 48 people booked to travel on it. Police shut down the M6, the motorway during rush hour and treated the situation as a suspected chemical spill after the driver dialled 999.

A spokesman for Staffordshire Police said, “We can confirm that no one has been injured and that there is no danger to passengers at the scene or any other travellers who were on the motorway at that time. We are also not treating anyone as a suspect.”

He added, “Whilst the incident is ongoing and further examination and investigation is taking place at the scene, passengers have been put on another bus for their comfort and safety.” Motorists reported at least 10 police vans surrounding the coach as ‘large numbers’ of armed police stormed in to the vehicle. A bomb disposal unit was called to the scene and people on board the bus were ordered to sit within a cordoned-off area while police surrounded them.

Eyewitness Nick Jones, who was stopped on the motorway said that police warned him to stay in his car, keep his windows closed and not to use air conditioning. Motorists caught in the tailbacks took to Twitter to express their frustration. Neil Crosby wrote, “Can someone let me know what is going on at the M6 toll road? There’s police with guns and five unmarked cars. Feels like I’m in Homeland!”  

Six terror suspects arrested
In a separate incident, London police arrested six people who are suspected of preparing terrorist strikes against targets in Britain. In a brief statement, Scotland Yard announced that five men and one woman between the ages of 18 and 30 had been taken into custody in London. The suspects were “part of a pre-planned intelligence-led operation” that was “not linked” to the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

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