A SUSPECTED stolen car was involved in a five-car crash at the junction next to the Samlesbury Hotel.

Officers had spotted the white Audi A3 on the M65 and followed it, believing it had been stolen.

The pursuit came to an end a few minutes later when there was a collision involving the Audi and two other vehicles where the A59 meets the A677 on Preston New Road. The Audi stopped in front of a traffic light post, eye-witnesses said.

The incident, at the junction with Cuerdale Lane yesterday, brought teatime rushhour traffic to a standstill.

The police helicopter was sent up to trace the suspected thieves and police dogs and their handlers were also sent to the scene.

Three men were detained close by, police said.

One man said he saw a man get out of one of the cars, jump over a fence and cross a cow field.

In total, five cars were involved in the pile-up including the Audi, a BMW, Mazda, Ford Ka and a Vauxhall.

The front driver’s side wheel of the Mazda was buckled and the driver’s side of the black Ford Ka was smashed in.

There did not appear to be any visible damage to the Audi.

Sohail Vakht, a shop assistant at the Esso garage close to the scene said: “The police were chasing one of the cars.

“The police helicopter was out and there were other cars involved in the crash too.

“I have seen nothing like this round here before. I am really surprised.

“It was very dramatic for a Friday afternoon.”

Jamie Bullen said he got to work at the Subway shop inside the garage at around 4pm yesterday, when there was a large number of police cars.

The 21-year-old said: “I have only been working here a month and it was shocking to see.

“When I got to work, there was a police car blocking the road. Half an hour later, there were police dogs, the helicopter was out and there were two 4x4s on one side of the road.”

Sophie Riches, hospitality manager at The Samlesbury Hotel, said staff there were alerted to what happened when they heard the police helicopter flying low overhead.

She said: “We wondered what was going on. It looked like there was something in the fields.

“The whole thing is a bit strange. There were a lot of people looking in the fields and the police went past with the dogs.”

A driver who saw the tailbacks and the aftermath of the crash said: “There was an enormous amount of police activity.

“There were five or six police cars at the scene. The police helicopter was flying overhead and there was a tailback going towards Blackburn.”

Around 5.30pm, the North West Motorway Policing Group tweeted to say they had been involved in the incident.

A spokesman posted: “Lancs NWMPG assisting with a vehicle seen on the M65 that is believed stolen.

“Offenders have made off causing a road traffic collision in Preston Old (New) Road. Three detained.

“@NWmwaypolice ably assisted in the endeavour by @NPAS_Warton. Three males detained. Helicopter and dog handlers involved in these successful arrests.”