Fake cigarette caused M6 police Megabus coach swoop
A fake cigarette prompted armed police to swoop on a coach on the M6 Toll road and close the motorway for more than four hours.
Forty eight passengers on the Megabus Preston to London service were led off the coach and forced to sit apart in a cordon on the opposite carriageway.
The road was closed near Lichfield before police said they were no longer treating the incident as suspicious.
Police said they received a "genuine report" of vapour escaping from a bag.'Genuine security alert'
Armed officers, troops, firefighters and bomb disposal experts all went to the scene.
Jenny Lister, who was on the coach, said when she got off "there were armed police aiming at us".
She said: "We... were told to sit in rows and not talk to each other."
A force spokeswoman said, given the credibility of the information received, officers "responded swiftly and proportionately". But police found no crime had been committed.
The M6 Toll road was shut from about 08:20 BST and fully reopened by 14:00 BST northbound and by 15:00 BST southbound.
Staffordshire Police received a report from someone who saw vapour coming from the man's bag while the coach was near the M6 Toll plaza at Weeford, near Lichfield.'Reports unfounded'
The force said on investigation they found the passenger had an electronic cigarette which produces a visible vapour.
How electronic cigarettes work
Oliver Kershaw, owner of Electronic Cigarette Forum website e-cigarette-forum.com, said: "These devices have been on the market for four to five years now.
"I have sympathy with any of the passengers who were concerned about the device, thinking it was something different. If they saw the person pouring liquid into something and it started smoking, it must have been quite alarming.
"They look like fake cigarettes and are in two parts. There are various versions of them but basically they contain a battery with either a cartridge or small tank that has liquid in it.
"The liquid goes through a small hole, which is an atomiser and heats up. The liquid consists of propylene glycol, nicotine, water and flavourings. To get it to work the mouthpiece is popped off the tank and liquid from a bottle is squeezed into the device.
"I've been more worried in the past that people would think these devices look like drug paraphernalia rather than something used by a terrorist."
The passengers, including at least one young boy, were taken to a cordoned-off area of the motorway and surrounded by police.
A decontamination unit was set up and officers searched the coach passengers one by one.
Military personnel, police dog handlers, firefighters and other specialist units were at the scene.
No-one was injured, there was no danger to passengers and no-one was being treated as a suspect after armed officers evacuated the Megabus coach, police said.
The spokeswoman said: "We can now confirm that, whilst this was a genuine security alert, the significant concerns reported to us were unfounded.
"It's important to state that no criminal offence has been committed and no passenger or any other member of the public is being treated as a suspect.
"We would like to apologise for any inconvenience and hope that the public understand that we have our duty to safeguard public safety."'Felt uneasy'
Student Vermilion Von Kangur, 20, said: "Some people thought there was a bomb on the bus, some people thought it was going to explode.
End Quote Vermilion Von Kangur Passenger
People didn't know what was going on so we only had to use our imaginations and picture the worst”
"Some people thought the bus had broken down, or that there was a prisoner on board. I was scared."
She said everyone on board was made to leave it one by one with their hands clearly visible.
Miss Von Kangur added: "I felt very intimidated. I thought if I moved I would get shot."
She said people were calling families and added: "People didn't know what was going on so we only had to use our imaginations and picture the worst."
Witness Nick Jones, who was stopped on the motorway for more than an hour-and-a-half, said police warned him to stay in his car, keep his windows closed and not to use air conditioning.
He said: "I was beginning to feel a little uneasy."
A spokeswoman for Megabus, which is operated by Stagecoach, said all 48 passengers booked on the service were safe and well.
She said: "We are assisting police with their inquiries into an allegation made against a passenger who was travelling on the 05.10 Preston to London service.
"There were 48 people booked to travel on board the service, which was due to arrive at Victoria Coach Station in London at 10.55am.
"Police have confirmed that all passengers are safe and well and they have been transferred to a substitute vehicle."