Hysteria spreads across Britain's forecourts despite pleas for calm

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The Independent Online

Appeals for calm from the Prime Minister were ignored yesterday as tens of thousands of motorists throughout Britain besieged garage forecourts in an attempt to fill up with petrol.

Appeals for calm from the Prime Minister were ignored yesterday as tens of thousands of motorists throughout Britain besieged garage forecourts in an attempt to fill up with petrol.

Assurances from fuel protesters that they had no intention of blockading refineries also fell on deaf ears and panic-buying worsened.

In scenes reminiscent of September's fuel crisis, garages ran dry and queues lengthened as the hysteria seemed to spread from south to north. Some areas reported that petrol sales had soared by more than two-thirds and managers of 24-hour petrol stations said that some people had queued overnight.

Oil companies were playing down the situation, but garage managers trying to order more petrol often found it impossible to get through to their suppliers. A spokeswoman for BP said the company was making extra deliveries and urged people to keep calm. But she admitted that demand was up to 70 per cent higher.

A spokesman for Esso said deliveries were running just 10 per cent above normal and that people should not panic because there was plenty of fuel available.

Speaking at a press conference in Newcastle upon Tyne, Tony Blair also urged the public not to panic. There was no need for anyone to "change the pattern of their behaviour", he said.

But with more than a week to go before the protesters' 60-day deadline of 13 November, motorists ignored his advice and queues continued to lengthen all over the country.

Senior police officers warned that stockpiling of fuel was potentially dangerous, especially in the days leading to Guy Fawkes night tomorrow.

Devon and Cornwall's assistant chief constable, Ian Latimer, spoke out following reports of hundreds of people buying petrol cans.

"It is causing us concern, especially with Bonfire Night approaching, and we would advise them not to do it," he said.

The emergency services warned motorists there was a legal limit to how much fuel could be stored: up to 15 litres at home and 10 litres in a car.

The panic-buying seemed to start in southern England. Vince Lethbridge, manager at the Eltham Service Station in south-east London, described the situation as "sheer chaos".

He said: "I had a delivery on Thursday morning and just 24 hours later I have just got a little bit of diesel and LRP [Lead Replacement Petrol]. I don't know when I am going to get my next delivery. It has been chaos - people are just panic-buying.

"I have been on the phone to the Esso depot trying to find out when I will get my next delivery but the lines are constantly engaged - obviously everyone else in the country is trying to get deliveries as well.

"I am not looking forward to the deadline. We have already had the police round discussing how they will marshall the streets."

One petrol station manager in Gravesend, Kent, who asked not to be named, said: "We are open 24 hours a day and we have had people queueing up all through the night. People are panic-buying and we cannot see an end to it, really."

Frank Harris, 54, from Northfleet, was queueing up at a Shell station in Gravesend. He said: "I am worried that I am not going to be able to get any petrol so I have come out. I blame the Government. Jack Straw advised everyone to keep their car tanks filled up and that is what I am doing."

Heather Taylor, 32, from Sidcup, Kent, said: "I don't care if it's panic-buying or not - I don't want to be the one that runs out of petrol when the time comes."

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