Drivers 'were too scared to break petrol blockades'

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The Independent Online

Details of severe intimidation and threats against hundreds of drivers during the fuel protests were reported yesterday on the day a 2p rise in petrol prices was announced.

Details of severe intimidation and threats against hundreds of drivers during the fuel protests were reported yesterday on the day a 2p rise in petrol prices was announced.

The catalogue of violence and abuse, which was disclosed by union leaders and oil companies, is fresh evidence that last month's blockades were not entirely peaceful and left many drivers too frightened to break them.

The price rise, the first widespread increase since the protests, could reignite public anger over the price of fuel and will increase pressure on Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, to offer concessions within the protesters' 60 days deadline set when the blockades ended.

However, Mr Brown made clear in a speech to the CBI last night that there would be no emergency measures to avert another fuel blockade.

"Stable policies will continue so there will be no sudden lurches in tax or spending policy," he said.

In response to the catalogue of violence, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, speaking after a meeting of the Government's fuel taskforce, said he was considering a public inquiry.

Mr Straw, joined by police, issued a firm warning to protesters contemplating a second blockade, condemning the level of intimidation as shocking. "The protesting went beyond the bounds of a peaceful protest and ended, in a few cases, at straightforward thuggery.

"It was not a peaceful protest as some of them persuaded us it was. The kind of action that took place last time is quite intolerable," he said.

A report by police showed 180 separate incidents of intimidation which had been logged by oil companies. These included verbal abuse, missiles thrown from motorway bridges at tankers and threats about drivers' homes. Similarly the Transport and General Workers' Union listed at least 30 cases of severe intimidation.

Mr Straw said there was a difficulty with policing against the intimidation during the protests because many drivers were too frightened to come forward and give evidence.

Chief Constable Chris Fox, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said policing in the event of another blockade would be more "vigorous" and the "intimidation, bullying and thuggery won't be tolerated".

Bill Morris, general secretary of the T&G, called for a public inquiry to resolve "the many unanswered questions about the role of the police, the oil companies and the protesters.

"There was gross intimidation to drivers and their families and the myth that the protesters were 'fine outstanding citizens' as described by some politicians now no longer holds. It never held and it was wrong," he said.

The union also complained that employers offered little or no support to the drivers, who had to "run the gauntlet" of blockades without any police protection.

"It appears that there were a number of breaches of the law, both civil and criminal, throughout the protest where any party, including the police, took no action," their evidence said.

The Treasury is working on a package to appease hauliers, which is likely to include cuts in fuel taxes. Mr Brown is expected to outline the measures in his pre-Budget report later this month.

Farming and industry leaders submitted a joint proposal to the Chancellor yesterday, which would make sweeping changes to the fuel taxation system, including a 15p a litre cut on diesel.