Slow start for 'Dump the Pump' protest

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The Independent Online

A one-day nationwide protest against high petrol and diesel prices got off to a slow start today.

A one-day nationwide protest against high petrol and diesel prices got off to a slow start today.

Two hundred lorries were expected to gather at Ashford in Kent for a blockade of the port of Dover - but only 12 turned up.

The action was intended to coincide with a call to motorists to boycott petrol stations today in a "dump the pump" Internet campaign.

But drivers seen at filling stations appeared either opposed to the boycott or knew nothing about it.

One driver at a Shell garage in Prestwich, Greater Manchester, gave a practical response by saying: "I need to fill up urgently".

The forecourt boycott has been co-ordinated by Garry Russell, of Chingford in Essex, who wants drivers not to use petrol stations today nor on each Monday from now on.

He warned: "If we sit back and do nothing then before too long we will have the £5 gallon.

"If we paid as much tax on certain items as we do on petrol then a first-class stamp would cost £1.13, a cinema ticket would be nearly £22 and a loaf of bread would be £1.58.

"I want to see forecourts become no-go areas on Mondays. This is very much an election issue now, with people blaming the Government for the high prices."

Transport minister Lord Whitty told Sky News today: "The increases in fuel prices over the last few months have not been to do with taxation, it has been to do with the real price of crude oil - so the Government has actually been backing off the fuel tax escalator."

The protest follows the first round in a petrol price war that has seen some supermarkets lower the price of petrol by around 5p to below 80p a litre. Petrol giants BP and Esso have also lowered prices.

The Dover protest was being organised by the members of the Hauliers Farmers Alliance who assembled at Ashford from where they planned to crawl to Dover at 30mph.

Once at Dover they intended to drive through the country's busiest port at 5mph then return to Ashford at a slow pace.

Spokesman Tim Smith said British haulage firms faced ruin because European drivers were able to undercut them by using cheap fuel.

He went on: "We are staging this blockade to highlight the fact that we are paying double the fuel duty of the French.

"European truck drivers are doing our work and we can't compete. East European drivers' operating costs can be £800 a week less than ours and no one on Earth can compete with that."

Filling up his car at the Shell garage in Prestwich, salesman Vaughan France, 35, of Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, said he would probably would have been boycotting petrol if his tank was not nearly empty.

He went on: "I wouldn't go out of my way to make sure I didn't need petrol today, but if I didn't need to fill-up urgently I would make a point of not buying petrol."