Rumour sends Britain into new fuel panic

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The Independent Online

Much of Britain was thrown into renewed fuel chaos yesterday after a radio show suggestion that blockades were about to resume provoked nationwide panic buying.

Much of Britain was thrown into renewed fuel chaos yesterday after a radio show suggestion that blockades were about to resume provoked nationwide panic buying.

Huge queues, in some places more than a mile long, caused traffic chaos in South Wales, Yorkshire, Manchester, the North-east and the South-west.

In a number of areas police were forced to make public announcements that the blockades had not restarted. Some petrol stations had to be closed because of the traffic problems being caused.

The return to the scenes of last week came as a leader of the protesters accused the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, of trying to provoke further confrontation by rejecting their 60-day deadline for a reduction in fuel tax. The price of crude oil also maintained its 10-year high, adding to fears of higher fuel prices.

The Conservatives will announce plans today to cut fuel taxes if elected. Michael Portillo will also launch a national campaign urging the Government to reduce the price of petrol. Tory sources said the policy change had been under consideration for months but agreed the protests had influenced the timing of the announcement.

Hauliers and farmers formed The People's Fuel Lobby yesterday to campaign over petrol prices.

The traffic chaos appears to have been triggered by Red Dragon FM, based in Cardiff. On Monday afternoon, a presenter, Warren Moore, said: "A lot of people are saying they've heard rumours they are going to blockade petrol areas, petrol forecourts at midnight tonight."

Yesterday the broadcasting watchdog, the Radio Authority, said it was examining tapes of the broadcast.

In a statement, Red Dragon said it had later liaised with South Wales Police and had persistently informed listeners on Monday night that the rumours were unfounded.

But it seems the damage had been done. South Wales Police reported long queues at forecourts across the area. Within hours the rumours had spread across Britain via the internet. An RAC spokesman said many motorists had heard the Avonmouth refinery near Bristol was also being blockaded. There were half-mile queues at every garage between Bristol and Bath.

By lunchtime yesterday, the panic had forced the Government on to the back foot. The Leader of the Commons, Margaret Beckett, denied claims that the problems had been caused by Mr Brown's comments about not giving in to protesters' demands.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said panic buying was based on "utterly unfounded rumours", while the Petrol Retailers' Association warned that the position could become "extremely serious". The Department of Trade and Industry urged motorists to be "sensible". The Transport and General Workers' Union confirmed no drivers were involved in any industrial action.

In Spain, tens of thousands of farmers mounted protests against fuel prices, blocking depots throughout the country. Madrid was brought to a halt by a convoy of tractors.

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