Fuel protest convoy support dwindles

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The Independent Online

Weeks ago they were strong enough to squeeze Britain dry. But today only the handful of fuel protesters trundling down in convoy from Jarrow to London were drained.

Weeks ago they were strong enough to squeeze Britain dry. But today only the handful of fuel protesters trundling down in convoy from Jarrow to London were drained.

They had threatened to put on a "show of strength", backed by the public, to tell Gordon Brown he must reduce duty on petrol. But the thousands of lorries predicted turned out to be just 20, and the 500,000- strong rally planned in Hyde Park seems unlikely.

Protesters refused to be down-hearted, though. Instead, they blamed the police, the Government and the media.

Their route has been repeatedly changed, they face an exclusion zone ringing London and, in a bid to minimise the protest, all lorries have been told to display police-issued green discs before they are allowed to join in.

Andy Spence, the Consett farmer leading the drive, was defiant. "Someone down there is thinking of every nasty little trick to make it difficult for us but we will get there even if we have to walk." The policing was "heavy-handed," he said, complaining of "harassment". "But it won't stop us. We won't stop now."

Mr Spence said the protesters were very disappointed by the Chancellor's announcement that he would cut 3p a litre off the price of low-sulphur diesel and said the reduction in vehicle excise duty still left British hauliers at a £485-a-week disadvantage compared with European competitors.

In a Gallup poll for The Daily Telegraph yesterday, 56 per cent of people agreed the cut was inadequate. And 59 per cent said the Government had not listened to people's concerns.

But Mr Brown, in an interview with BBC1's Breakfast With Frost today, is expected to use the flagging fuel protest as evidence that he has done enough and that people no longer support action.

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