Boy, 11, left at garage as deposit for petrol

'Your small son? That'll do nicely.' Improbably, this is roughly how the conversation panned out when the Brown family discussed how to pay for petrol when they had no money.

They were on their way to visit Stephen Brown's mother in Chalk, near Gravesend, Kent, when they realised the fuel gauge was into the last stage before empty.

They spotted a petrol station in the nick of time and pulled on to the forecourt at Shorne Service Station near Gravesend. Then it dawned on them that they could not pay.

'Before we put any petrol in, we realised I had left my purse at home,' Carol Brown from Hoo, near Rochester, said yesterday.

Recollections of how the conversation went after that diverge. Mrs Brown says she put in as small an amount of fuel as possible to get them to their destination - pounds 2.02 worth, less than a gallon - then asked the garage if she might drive to a relative's to fetch the money. As a guarantee, she offered her husband Stephen's ring, containing a mounted gold sovereign.

According to Mrs Brown, the service station seemed to doubt whether the ring was adequate guarantee that they would come back. The manager asked them to leave 11-year-old Joey behind instead.

'There was a lot of talk before we were asked to leave our 11-year-old son behind while we got the pounds 2.02 in cash,' Mrs Brown insisted.

The filling station insists it had been prepared to be more flexible.

A spokesman said: 'As far as I am aware at this stage, the couple was asked to fill out a form with all their details but they refused, and offered to leave their son at the station.'

Either way, they agreed to leave young Joey, and no doubt to the garage's and the boy's relief, came back soon afterwards with the cash to reclaim him.

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