Motorists atonished by timing of companies' increases at the pumps

Forecourts
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The Independent Online

The few who found a petrol station selling fuel to the general public yesterday were hit by a sting in the tail as three operators marked their return to business with price rises.

The few who found a petrol station selling fuel to the general public yesterday were hit by a sting in the tail as three operators marked their return to business with price rises.

Esso, which runs one of Britain's biggest networks, with 1,620 forecourts, announced a rise of 2p on a litre of unleaded and 4p on a litre of diesel within hours of tankers starting to roll. Its rival TotalFinaElf announced a rise of 1.9p on unleaded and 4p on diesel, while Jet signalled that it was increasing the price of unleaded on some of its forecourts.

For many petrol-starved motorists at an Esso garage in Hindhead, Surrey, yesterday morning it was a decision too far after seven days of upheaval. David McGinn, a sales director from Liss, Hampshire, said: "It is ... outrageous. They are the only garage around that has got any fuel left, so they know people will pay. We don't have a choice."

Customers queuing for their £10 quota of fuel condemned the rises as ill-timed and predicted that they would signal a return to the blockades. A prison officer, Alicen Clark, from Chichester, West Sussex, said: "It's disgusting: they are just asking for more trouble. They have done themselves no favours at all and I wouldn't be surprised if the protesters blocked the refineries again."

A delivery man, David Scott, from Rochester, Kent, said: "It is not very good timing. After a while people will shop around but at the moment there is so little choice."

With criticism from Tony Blair ringing in their ears, bosses at Esso and Jet both announced later that they were reversing their increases for the time being.

Motoring organisations condemned the increases. Edmund King, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "This timing is totally insensitive. On the very day we have managed to persuade protesters to give up their protests ... Esso seem to be igniting the fires again with another increase."

For some, however, no price was too much to pay to keep their vehicle on the road. A Porsche driver in Hindhead said: "As long as I've got my petrol I don't care. People would pay double if they had to."

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