A crackdown on organised immigration crime saw Cheshire Police check 148 lorries at service stations across the county over the past three months.

The search resulted in one Iranian stowaway being found and £11,200 in outstanding civil penalty fines recovered from hauliers who had previously been found to have migrants hiding in their vehicles.

Another 96 fixed penalties were issued for various offences, totalling £18,750 in fines.

Cheshire Constabulary said the operation, which involved police, Border Force, Immigration, the Cheshire Drone Unit, DVSA and local authorities, was "aimed to disrupt a crime which puts vulnerable people at risk of exploitation and harm by using dangerous routes into, or out of, the UK”.

The operation saw searches carried out at Burtonwood services on the M62 and Lymm services on the M6 over the past three months.

Lorry drivers were given advice and leaflets on how to avoid becoming victim to gangs making money from the illegal movement of vulnerable people by securing vehicles.

The DVSA also checked that drivers’ hours were being adhered to, and that lorries were roadworthy.

DS Darren Wright said: “Clandestine entry to the UK poses a significant risk of life to those who have been concealed in the vehicles and transported overseas to the UK and vice versa.

“We recognise that many of the successful clandestine entry attempts involve road haulage vehicles due to the amount of hiding space in the vehicle, and the ease of movement in and out of the UK through legitimate and identified travel routes.”

He added: “Organised crime groups also know this and exploit this method of movement in and out of the UK, and recruit complicit drivers to assist with the facilitation of illegal entry of people and goods.

“Sadly, many who successfully gain illegal entry into the UK often end up becoming victims of modern slavery offences. Many will become subjected to further criminal exploitation, so it’s important drivers play their part in protecting vulnerable people by understanding the risks and knowing how to keep themselves safe from these criminal gangs.”