Fuel protesters banned from London

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The Independent Online

Fuel tax protesters have been banned from entering London at the end of their 'go-slow' demonstration drive from Tyneside.

Fuel tax protesters have been banned from entering London at the end of their 'go-slow' demonstration drive from Tyneside.

Police say they will stop the convoy entering the Capital because of concerns the protest could be exploited by terrorists in a pre-Christmas bombing campaign.

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair said there would be no more concessions to motorists or hauliers.

Protest leaders say about 70 vehicles headed south from the north east at 9am, although reports suggested the number was far lower.

When the convoy arrived at Ferrybridge Services off the M62 in West Yorkshire tonight there were only 50 vehicles, including around 15 HGVs.

Demonstrators said the ban on entering London was "another nail in the coffin of the police state".

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said the strict measures were because of "very real fears" the protest could be exploited by terrorists who may be mounting a bombing campaign.

Officers will establish border control-style checkpoints - in some cases as far out as the M25 - to stop and demand ID from lorry drivers to prove they are on legitimate business.

Protesters going to the People's Fuel Lobby rally in London's Hyde Park on Tuesday will have to park outside the city then take public transport.

Sir John said: "I make no bones about it, I am very worried about the terrorist threat. It will be a massive challenge to keep traffic moving but we have the legislation."

The Prime Minister said the government had done "as much as we responsibly can" to appease protesters, but insisted that investment in public services would not be reduced to cut transport costs.

Speaking as a nursing conference in Brighton, Mr Blair said: "We did what we responsibly could to help motorists and hauliers on Wednesday, but we did it in a way that did not put at risk either economic stability - which helps businesses and our mortgages - or our programme of investment."

The government had "made people angry" with policies including the Fuel Duty Escalator, he said, but the economy was in good shape as a result.

One of the leaders, Andrew Spence, reacted furiously to the "disgusting" way the police had handled the convoy, and other drivers threatened to take the convoy straight down to London tonight.

He derided the London ban, saying: "If that is the way the police want to do it they can, but this is another nail in the coffin of the police state.

"Mr Blair, what are you afraid of? You need to get round the negotiating table with David Handley (chairman of the People's Fuel Lobby) and talk. The protest is not running out of steam - I think this will give it more steam."

North Wales farmer Brynle Williams, a key figure in the original fuel protests, today called for the lorry convoy to be called off.

Mr Williams said "a lot of doors" had been opened recently and he feared the convoy and accompanying protests would prove counter-productive, costing the protesters' public sympathy and support.

But Mr Spence hit back: "I'm disgusted at what he had to say. He's a traitor."

Police earlier warned they would deal "robustly" with any go-slow protest and have taken legal action to keep the lorries on a route that avoids flood-hit areas such as York.

Solicitor Stephen Alexander, representing the People's Fuel Lobby, had said the protesters would respect the law and did not want to cause disruption.

The convoy heads for Manchester on Saturday, Stoke and Birmingham on Sunday, Northampton and Milton Keynes on Monday, before reaching London on Tuesday.

Fishermen today halted plans to hold their own protest next Tuesday.

The demonstration, which was supposed to feature a flotilla sailing down the Thames, was suspended pending a meeting with Agriculture Minister Nick Brown.