Stolen lorry gives 20-mile strip a carbon coating

Bright sunshine, blue sky ... but a black cloud settles over Gloucester shire
Click to follow
A 20-Mile strip of rural Gloucestershire was coated in sticky black dust yesterday after a stolen lorry shed its load as it passed through villages and hamlets during the night.

Thousands of people awoke to find their homes, gardens, cars, cats and dogs covered in carbon black, a non-toxic but extremely sticky powder. Herds of cows were blackened and the dust, normally used for manufacturing car tyres, made its way into several waterways.

Police said about 20 tonnes of the powder, said to be 10 times finer than flour, had emptied from a stolen lorry being driven north from the Bristol area. As the driver, believed to be from Lancashire, set off back north up the A38, the lorry began spewing dust and it billowed out for 20 miles before another motorist spotted the cloud and called the police. The lorry driver was being held for questioning at Cheltenham police station yesterday afternoon.

Police switchboards were jammed by anxious callers awaking to find their homes almost unrecognisable. One man, police reported, had painted his house white the day before and thought something had gone horribly amiss with the paint. Another caller, Richard Gilpin, from Falfield, south Gloucestershire, said: "The first I knew of it was when I got up to let the cat in. We have a ginger cat but it came in black from its walk. Then I saw the neighbour's golden labrador. It was also black."

Other householders were left with black carpets, furniture and clothes after the dust blew indoors. "It's a right mess," said a spokesman for Somerset and Avon police. "As far as we are aware, it was accidental. I expect the driver got the shock of his life. We really don't know what he was up to, or why he did this, but this powder has got itself absolutely everywhere. It's a nightmare."

Sevalco, the manufacturing company from which the trailer was stolen, immediately set up a helpline to advise householders on cleaning up. A spokeswoman said: "Carbon black is absolutely non-hazardous and non-toxic, and will wash off with a good detergent. But we are advising callers with any problems to get in touch with their insurance company and, if necessary, their solicitor."