EARLY morning traffic ground to a halt in Swindon yesterday after a runaway horse led to a five-vehicle smash on the M4 motorway, which had a knock-on effect in the town.

The collision occurred at approximately 4.45am on the section of motorway by Membury Services, when a van was forced to swerve in an attempt to avoid the animal, which had bolted across the road.

The manoeuvre resulted in four other vehicles colliding with each other and the horse, which was struck a number of times by different vehicles was killed.

Emergency services responded swiftly to the incident and treated two people for minor injuries. The driver of the van which started the chain reaction was freed from his vehicle by firefighters and sent to hospital with minor injuries.

At 5.40am the Highways Agency was advising a 15-minute delay for drivers, as they were diverted through the service area.

But from 6.45am, when rush hour hit, delays increased as more traffic poured onto the eastbound carriageway between Junctions 14 and 15. This delay remained in place until 11am, when the Highways Agency declared the road open, with residual delays slowly fading away.

The accident caused major delays on the A419 at Swindon, with traffic queueing from Blunsdon to junction 15 of the motorway.

Thames Valley Police have said they are investigating how the horse came to access the road.

Shortly before 9am yesterday, a spokesman said: “At about 4.45am, police received reports that there was a horse loose on the carriageway and a number of vehicles had collided with it.

“One vehicle, a white van, overturned at the scene and the driver needed to be released from the vehicle by the fire service. He has been taken to hospital for treatment. His injuries are not believed to be life threatening. “The horse was killed in the collision. No-one else was injured.”

It wasn’t the only collision causing traffic chaos around the town yesterday morning.

At 7.20am, emergency services were called to the junction between Mine Way and Highworth Road after a Renault Clio and a Mercedes crashed. Both drivers were taken to the Great Western Hospital with minor injuries.

And at 7.45am, a crash occurred at Mannington Roundabout on the Great Western Way between a lorry and a Ford Fiesta. The car was pushed to the lay-by while awaiting recovery but police officers reported issues with drivers attempting u-turns on the road following the incident. The road was reopened by 8.50am but there were heavy tailbacks in the area during the morning rush hour.

A Highways Agency spokesman said: “This morning’s incident on the M4 is sad proof that animals loose on the motorway are a real threat to road safety.

“We do all we can to prevent animals from getting onto the motorway, and our traffic officers are trained to resolve any instances when they do as quickly and safely as possible. “We'd like to take this opportunity to remind landowners to ensure their animal containment measures are adequate, and our advice to drivers is that, following any breakdown or collision, any animals with you should remain in the vehicle.

“The circumstances of this morning’s incident are being investigated by the police – we can confirm though that the highway boundary fence along this section of the M4 is in a good state of repair, having been replaced last year.”