THREE brothers who went missing from Sunderland six days ago were found in Oswaldtwistle.

Police said they arrested seven people – three from Lancashire – in relation to their disappearance.

Officers said they believe there may have been a plan to spirit the boys aged 15, 12 and 10 out of the country.

Concerns about the youngsters’ whereabouts were raised when they failed to return to their foster carers' home in Sunderland, after setting out on a bike ride to a local park.

Instead, they caught a Metro to Newcastle, then took a pre-booked taxi to London and spent two nights in the capital before heading for Birmingham, police said. All the time with adult assistance, the brothers were then taken to Oswaldtwistle where they were found on Saturday, safe and well, officers said.

A total of seven people have been arrested and the boys were taken back to the North East to be reunited with their foster parents.

Two men, aged 47 and 22, and a 23-year-old woman were arrested in Lancashire.

A 37-year-old was arrested in London, a man aged 34 and a woman of 39 were arrested at an address in Birmingham on Wednesday evening, and a 41-year-old Newcastle man was also helping police with inquiries.

The boys’ natural father, who is of Romany origin, was deported to Romania after serving an eight-year prison sentence in this country for people trafficking.

Their mother was investigated for criminal matters and left the country earlier this year.

Northumbria Police said the brothers had been living happily with their foster parents for 18 months.

Superintendent Alan Veitch, who led the investigation, said it was “entirely possible” the plan was to get the boys out of the country. He said: “I think it has been quite organised and orchestrated. This was all planned and arranged in advance. By who, I don't know. This is what we need to get to the bottom of.”

Anyone with information, call police on 101.