'Sold out' signs go up on forecourts across England

Fuel protests: As jittery motorists try to beat any petrol shortages, ministers reveal a campaign of abuse against tanker drivers in September
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The Independent Online

Motorists desperate to beat the threat of renewed fuel protests in 10 days' time sparked a panic-buying spree at petrol stations across Britain yesterday.

Motorists desperate to beat the threat of renewed fuel protests in 10 days' time sparked a panic-buying spree at petrol stations across Britain yesterday.

Queues of drivers, some armed with petrol cans to ensure maximum supplies, built up throughout the day from Kent to Leeds - leading to a new epidemic of "sold out" signs on forecourts.

The surge in demand came despite the announcement by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, of plans to safeguard supplies during any new blockade and assurances from oil companies that there were no shortages.

A Fina petrol station in Stockton, Teesside, sold out of its stock of 20,000 gallons of fuel yesterday morning after rumours spread around the area that it was about to run dry.

The owner, Ian Stevenson, said: "It is unbelievable. We had queues of cars out of the forecourt on to the road with drivers desperate to fill up. They said they were getting in early after the reports concerning plans for the next protest in a couple of weeks.

"Drivers see a queue at the pumps, word gets around and before you know it everyone is filling up needlessly."

Others pointed to a panic among forecourt owners themselves as they ordered increased stocks to meet demand if the blockades return as threatened by protesters on 13 November.

One manager at a garage in Everton, Merseyside, said: "The smaller stations are filling their tanks to capacity which means that the fuel companies are behind in their deliveries. Normally, they would take only 20,000 litres in the tanks but with the protest deadline around the corner they are taking up to 100,000 litres. No one wants to get caught out again."

Much of the rush occurred in those areas worst hit by the fuel protests in September, including Merseyside and Yorkshire. Several service stations in Liverpool had run out of unleaded petrol by lunch-time while a Texaco forecourt in Castleford, West Yorkshire, had run out of diesel by this morning. Nicky Stone, manager of the Texaco outlet, said: "There was a queue on the forecourt and down the road of lorries and vans who were filling up all their tanks and extra petrol cans."

In Kent, an Esso garage on the M2 at Gillingham was closed after supplies ran dry and drivers waiting to fill up blocked roads in Sidcup, south-east London.

James Redman, 25, from Erith, Kent, who was filling two large petrol cans as well as topping up the tank of his car, said: "I am not going to get caught out this time. It's better to be safe than sorry."

Petrol companies sought to play down fears of a nationwide panic, insisting that an increase in sales had been caused by people taking to the roads because of train delays and the poor weather. A spokeswoman for Shell said: "We had a similar rise at this time last year. If you add to that the incredible weather and the fact that it is almost impossible to get from A to B by train, it's scarcely surprising."

But the assurances were falling on deaf ears last night as a snowball effect of motorists spotting queues at petrol stations and filling their own tanks threatened to take hold.

Sheila Long, 41, who was waiting in a long line of vehicles at an Elf filling station in Liverpool, said: "I saw the queues at all the petrol stations and thought I had better fill thetank up."