PARTS of Cheshire came to a standstill when the M56 was closed due to a suspicious vehicle.
Rush-hour commuters inched along in queues stretching for miles after police closed the M56 between junctions 12 and 16 and declared a major security alert at Hapsford Service Station on Wednesday.
Initial reports of police activity and then the arrival of an army bomb disposal unit began to filter through at 2.10pm, by which time the entrance to the service station was blocked off and a full evacuation had taken place.
Three controlled explosions were carried out on the van over the following hours and, at 4.40pm, police took the decision to close the M56 in both directions.
Traffic on the motorway came to a standstill and tailbacks began to stretch for miles.
By 6pm, Chester city centre was grid-locked as hundreds of commuters set off on their daily journey home.
The Grosvenor Roundabout soon became impenetrable as queues of traffic made it impossible for motorists to make any progress and jammed cars stretched right across the Grosvenor Bridge.
The tailbacks continued for the next couple of hours as Hoole Road felt the brunt of the motorway closure. Queues of cars built up around Cheshire Oaks as people attempted to join the A41, which became packed with commuter and summer holiday traffic.
The effects of the closures could be felt on nearly all of the major routes leading in and out of the city. Heavy congestion lingered until after 8.30pm.
A spokesman for the AA said: 'People were waiting on the M53 where it joins with the M56 for more than an hour because they did not know the road had been closed.'
Police and the army declared Hapsford Service Station clear at 8.15pm. firstname.lastname@example.org
'A total abdication'
RETURNING from a holiday in the Yorkshire Dales, teacher John Fox had already driven for two hours to reach junction 10 of the M56 - just a 40-minute journey away from his Little Neston home.
But it took him, his wife and 20-year-old daughter a further five hours to complete their trip.
'There were no policemen to be seen at any point in that five hours. It took us two hours to crawl between two junctions. People were running out of petrol and we saw more than one car overheated and pulled up on the hard shoulder,' said Mr Fox.
'At one point there were two solid lines of traffic trying to turn right, using the normal traffic lights. All we needed was a bit of old-fashioned policing where someone stood in the middle of the road and waved traffic through.
But we didn't see one police officer until we reached the outskirts of Chester. There was a total abdication by Cheshire police,' he claimed.
Mr Fox decided to travel south on the A49 to Cuddington where, he says, he could have quite easily had a chat with those lucky enough to be enjoying a drink at the roadside pubs as he and hundreds of others inched their way through the village.
Despite the snail-pace progress and some motorists opting to turn the hard shoulder into a make-shift fourth lane, Mr Fox says he and his family, who eventually made it home just after 10.30pm, were impressed by the attitudes of others in the miles long queue.
He said: 'I have never seen such patience. Not one person beeped their horn or got too irate. People behaved very well.'
Explosive experts called on again
THIS week's security scare isn't the first time explosive experts from Chester have been involved in incidents since the country was put on higher alert.
The army bomb disposal unit, based at Chester's Dale Barracks, were called in to deal with a suspicious package found at Manchester's Piccadilly train station just weeks after the terror attacks in London.
The discovery of the abandoned piece of luggage at the station caused the evacuation of busy weekend crowds from the city centre on Saturday, July 16.
The police cordoned off the surrounding area and called on the emergency assistance of the trained army bomb disposal team based in Chester.
The team, part of the Royal Logistics Corps, are considered experts in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and are officers of the 11 EOD Regiment.
Senior information officer for 2 division, Martine McNee said: 'The team will be in a position to deal with anything that can be construed as an Improvised Explosive Device.'
Jonathan Salisbury-Baker, a senior press officer for the Ministry of Defence, confirmed the unit's involvement in this week's operation. He said: 'Our bomb disposal unit was tasked by the police to become involved in a developing incident at Hapsford Service Station.'
Stories from the gridlock
MOTORISTS have described their long journey home in chaotic traffic on Wednesday.
Long tailbacks snaked along most of the main roads in and out of the city centre as people struggled to find an alternative route home.
Salford University student Anna O'Rourke, of Whitby, hit heavy traffic after leaving her summer job in Chester to pick up her sister at Hooton train station shortly after 5.30pm.
Anna said: 'At first I thought it was normal rush hour traffic but when I got as far as the A41 I thought something might be wrong. I tried to get back into Chester later on and the traffic along the A41 then was barely moving. We ended up taking a load of back roads but it still took us more than an hour to get to Hoole and that was 7pm.'
Legal secretary Lesley Piercy saw her usual journey time home more than triple after leaving Walker Smith Way Solicitors, Nicholas Street.
Lesley said: 'From the Fountains roundabout to my house in Boughton it took me about 50 minutes. The traffic was hardly moving.
'My boyfriend Simon went for a quick drink after work in the city centre and left about 6.00pm. He didn't reach my house until 8.30pm.'