About 70 vehicles join fuel protest convoy

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The Independent Online

Seventy-one vehicles have set off in a convoy heading to London this morning to demand lower fuel prices.

Seventy-one vehicles have set off in a convoy heading to London this morning to demand lower fuel prices.

The size of the group which left the Birtley truck stop on the A1 in Gateshead on Tyneside was lower than the hundreds of vehicles forecast by some organisers.

Reports say the convoy was made up of 23 trucks, 31 smaller transit and 4x4 type vehicles and 17 tractors.

A loosely organised coalition of truckers and farmers blockaded British refineries in September, quickly drying up petrol and diesel supplies across the country as they protested against Europe's highest fuel taxes.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown announced earlier this week that the government would reduce fuel taxes by about 3 pence per litre next spring.

Although police had warned the protesters not to drive slowly and block traffic, the convoy caused traffic congestion in Newcastle as it drove through at 20 mph or less.

The convoy will reach Manchester on Saturday, Stoke and Birmingham on Sunday, and Northampton and Milton Keynes on Monday. It is due to reach London on Tuesday for a mass rally.

Northumbria Police were at the meeting point this morning advising protesters of how they could demonstrate and what routes they were allowed to follow.

Officers gave them letters setting out the law.

They read: "Northumbria Police recognises and respects the right to lawful protest. In particular we believe in an individual's right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly as defined in articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

"However these rights do not permit or condone any acts which are unlawful and article two of the Human Rights Act 1998 obliges the police to protect life and enforce the law.

"The police will act in a fair and non-discriminatory manner, at all times treating people with courtesy, decency and respect whilst positively enforcing the law and ensuring public safety."

Transport minister Lord Macdonald urged those lorry drivers joining the demonstration to think again as the nation faced enough disruption without them adding to it.

He said Mr Brown had cut fuel prices and reduced lorry taxes to help the haulage industry, which may have dampened the protest.