New petrol stations 'put women at risk'

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WOMEN drivers could be put at risk by a new breed of unstaffed petrol stations now undergoing trials in Kent and Cambridgeshire, warns a group concerned with women's safety.

Shell and Q8 (owned by Kuwait Petroleum) are testing entirely automatic petrol stations which are open 24 hours a day and require no staff. Instead, drivers swipe their credit card into a reader beside the pump, take the required amount of petrol, and have the appropriate sum debited from their account.

But Fiona Brown, of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a lobbying group on women's safety, says: "We would take the view that there's safety in having humans around. It's like an unstaffed station - as a lone woman, you're much more vulnerable." The trust fears such stations might attract opportunist criminals.

Andrew Vickers, a spokesman for Shell, defended the concept: "The station we are testing in Godstone in Kent is over the road from a manned station. What we are finding is that the people using the unmanned station are HGV drivers and sales reps - busy people. We felt that the demand for this service merited the experiment."

Q8, which has set up a similar station in Ely, Cambridgeshire, said: "This sort of station is very common in Scandinavia. And there are savings in manpower."

However, the unstaffed stations in Scandinavia tend to be in areas which suffer extreme winters, where it would be uncomfortable for staff or would- be criminals to hang around in the hope of a passing motorist.

Ms Brown says, "Anybody who's at one of those stations is going to be potential prey, standing there with their credit cards in their hands and nobody around. I suppose that customers will vote with their feet."

Shell and Q8 insist the stations will be monitored, and that they have yet to decide to automate more. "Overall, we do not see it replacing the traditional service station," says Mr Vickers.