MORE than 50 officers from Wiltshire Police and its partners targeted the M4 yesterday to crack down on smuggling, trafficking and road safety.

Foreign licenced lorries and vans were pulled over during the day-long operation to conduct thorough checks, making sure the vehicles were safe to drive and there was no contraband on board.

During the operation, carried out between J14 and J15 in conjunction with national initiative Operation Mermaid, 60 vehicles were stopped and checked.

A total of £7,350 worth of fines were issued, 10 vehicles were found to be overweight, and four had mechanical defects which resulted in immediate prohibition notices.

Thirty-three fixed penalty notices were also issued, along with one cannabis street caution.

Insp Steve Cox, of the roads policing team, said: “The whole operation is focused on road safety. Drivers could not have been on the motorway entering Wiltshire today without seeing police officers.

“As a result we have seen no collisions reported on this stretch of motorway, so in terms of improving the safety of our roads, today has been a great success.

“If you have an articulated lorry in difficult driving conditions, if it is overweight you have got a ticking time bomb on the road. The outcome could be disastrous.

“On the other side we have got the criminal aspect of vehicles travelling on the road, and we are looking at what is being carried in the back of these vehicles. Last year we had the largest ever seizure of over £500,000 worth of tobacco being smuggled into the county, which had a street value of more than £1m.

“That would have gone straight into circulation and into the black market if we had not caught it where we did.”

The roads police now have the benefit of automatic number plate recognition devices, which will alert them to a vehicle whose driver may be on the wanted list.

This Is Wiltshire:

Dave Rozier, a senior vehicle examiner for VDSA/VSOA, inspecting a lorry’s tyres

Lorries found to be carrying too much weight or unfit to drive were carted off to a lorry park and chained up while the problem was resolved.

“On the road we had 16 officers in cars and motorcycles,” added Insp Cox. “The vehicle would be stopped prior to the weighbridge. If there are no problems they will be released very quickly, but if officers have any suspicions then they are escorted off site.”

Sgt Andy Morton, search officer with Wiltshire Police, organised vehicle checks on the day.

“It is really simple stuff, and most drivers will co-operate because they know their companies are operating legally with no issues at all,” he said.“There will be exceptions to that rule. Some vehicles may not have any paperwork at all. If a dog smells something off we will use that as an in-road.

“The officers dealing with the driver may have some concerns, and from that we may conduct a structured search of the driver.”