Petrol stations run out of fuel as protest bites

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of petrol stations across the country ran out of fuel yesterday after a series of demonstrations by hauliers, lorry drivers and farmers closed down at least seven major fuel depots.

Hundreds of petrol stations across the country ran out of fuel yesterday after a series of demonstrations by hauliers, lorry drivers and farmers closed down at least seven major fuel depots.

The growing campaign of protests against rising fuel prices also led to further go-slow convoys closing roads in the North-east of England, including one demonstration by about 30 heavy vehicles that closed the A1 north of Newcastle.

Charlie Armstrong, a farmer of North Charlton, Northumberland, said: "Farmers and lorry drivers have simply had enough. We have seen our costs spiral upwards while the price we get for our produce stays the same or goes down."

After the sporadic protests started at Ellesmere Port last Thursday night, the blockades and demonstrations spread yesterday to include depots in Bristol, Milford Haven, Manchester, Hythe in Hampshire, and Lincolnshire.

Little of the action involved permanent blockades of the depots, but the major petrol companies Shell, BP and Esso admitted that the demonstrations had disrupted supplies to garages across the North-west and South-west. As a result, motorists panicked in some areas and bought more than their usual amount of fuel. This increased the knock-on effects of the demonstrations, with growing numbers of petrol stations closing yesterday as supplies ran out.

A BP spokeswoman said: "The problem is two-fold because as well as experiencing disruption in our supply, people are also buying more petrol than normal."

The protesters have threatened to step up their protests by targeting refineries such as Grangemouth, near Edinburgh, despite yesterday's claims from John Reid, the Secretary of State for Scotland, that the rising oil prices were to blame. "The people of this country do not resort to the French way of doing things, which causes massive disruption, inconvenience for their fellow citizens," he said on GMTV's Sunday programme. "We do it the British way - that means listening."

Shell - whose depot at Stanlow, near Ellesmere Port, was the target of a third day of protests yesterday - said up to 100 petrol stations in Lancashire, Cheshire and Merseyside were either dry or close to running out. A spokesman warned last night: "If it continues like this [the number] will certainly rise."

BP, the company first targeted by the largely unsuccessful Dump the Pump boycott last month, said roughly 140 of its petrol stations in the North-west were affected. Texaco has had about 12 garages run dry since the protests began at Milford Haven.

Esso said three of its eight oil depots around the country had been affected, leading to an undisclosed number of petrol stations in southern England and Lancashire running out of fuel. Its depots at Hythe, Avonmouth docks near Bristol and its large depot at Trafford Park, Manchester, were targeted.

In Manchester, where the fuel depot also services Elf and Texaco petrol stations, the protests began on Saturday evening when 20 lorries and tractors blocked the road. In Avonmouth, Esso's depot was targeted along with a joint Texaco and Total Fina depot .

Despite some ugly incidents in Cheshire, an Esso spokeswoman who visited a small protest at its fuel distribution depot in Hythe said the demonstrators were peaceful and very good humoured.

"It was a very pleasant chance to sunbathe and people were smiling and behaving very nicely. It was all very British," she said.

Demonstrators who parked eight lorries at the entrance to the Lindsey oil refinery in North Killingholme, Lincolnshire, were also peaceful, but still prevented oil tankers leaving the site.

Supermarkets have also been hit by panic buying, with some reporting a boost in fuel sales by up to 30 per cent.

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