Fuel protesters say 'Jarrow' lorry convoy is a decoy

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The Independent Online

Leaders of the fuel protest convoy last night threatened to bring chaos to the heart of London today after police relaxed their exclusion zone around the capital.

Leaders of the fuel protest convoy last night threatened to bring chaos to the heart of London today after police relaxed their exclusion zone around the capital.

In an extraordinary series of claims, unsupported by any evidence, the protesters said that the main "Jarrow" convoy has acted as a decoy and that an unknown number of campaigners' lorries have already been driven into the capital.

In an attempt to maximise the disruption to highlight their demands for further concessions on petrol and diesel prices, protesters claimed to have already smuggled a number of lorries into the capital while the main convoy acted as a decoy.

Scotland Yard said the reduced number of just 20 protesters who had driven from the north east over five days had led to a renegotiation of arrangements to allow the group to be escorted into London while still excluding them from the Westminster area.

But as the main convoy, which has been derided for attracting only seven HGVs, acted as a decoy, Craig Eley, a Gateshead-based haulier and a member of the People's Fuel Lobby, said: "There are lads going down there now who are not part of the convoy. I'm from the north east. I know of at least another 40 trucks going down. There will be more protesters than people think."

"The plan has been to get as many people to London as possible without getting arrested. We did it this way after police said they were going to throw a ring of steel around London. It is fair to say that the convoy has been a good decoy."

Organisers of the official rolling protest, which has been strictly escorted by police using public order notices along its 270-mile journey from Newcastle, refused to deny Mr Eley's claim. It was understood that separate groups of vehicles were planning to travel into London from locations including Wales and Kent.

The main convoy of hauliers and farmers plans to travel at around 10.30am to Hyde Park from the Gateway service station on the M1 in Barnet, north London.

Four farm tractors transported from the north east on the back of two low-loader lorries will be unloaded for the final 10 miles into the city, along with a cavalcade of small lorries, cars and pick-up trucks.

Protesters in the London-bound convoy were heartened by two protest convoys which formed in Scotland. One convoy of 92 vehicles left Inverurie yesterday morning heading to Stirling, where it met up with a second convoy which had left John o' Groats with some 15 vehicles. The combined convoy is expected to arrive in Edinburgh this morning for a rally.

There were a number of desultory attempts by small groups of protesters to disrupt oil terminals but they quickly disintegrated due to lack of support. Police said around 18 demonstrators had converged on the Stanlow oil refinery, at Ellesmere Port. Protesters also gathered at the Manchester Fuels Terminal in Trafford Park.

Today a PFL delegation, including Andrew Spence, the Tyneside haulier and farmer who has led the protest from Newcastle, and national leader David Handley, will go to Downing Street to hand in a petition calling for further cuts in fuel prices and excise duty.

Mr Spence said: "This is the final leg of a mission to bring the message to Mr Blair that if he doesn't listen to the people then we will kick him out. We don't intend anything other than a peaceful protest but the message will be loud and clear."

* Hundreds of thousands of miles of local roads will be restored across England after the Government doubled its repair budget to £1bn yesterday. The details were given by Keith Hill, the Transport Minister, when he announced the Local Transport Settlement in a written Parliamentary answer.

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