The Depot

Portrait of Britain besieged
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The Independent Online

Late yesterday afternoon Lou Thurgood's bright orange articulated lorry was blocking the exit of the Esso depot at Purfleet in Essex. Mr Thurgood, a wiry, grey-haired man who will be 68 in two weeks, is part of the blockade nightshift. "Enough is enough," he says. "I had to do something, otherwise I'll be out of business."

Late yesterday afternoon Lou Thurgood's bright orange articulated lorry was blocking the exit of the Esso depot at Purfleet in Essex. Mr Thurgood, a wiry, grey-haired man who will be 68 in two weeks, is part of the blockade nightshift. "Enough is enough," he says. "I had to do something, otherwise I'll be out of business."

Mr Thurgood has been a lorry driver since 1954 but has never been on a picket before. He says he cannot ever remember the financial pressures being as bad as this before. "The cost of fuel is now ridiculous. If it goes up another 6p a litre next week a lot of us will be out of business."

His comment is warmly supported by his picketing colleagues. There are eight men on the night picket. "Our profit is going down monthly," says Jay Cernon, from the locally based Grays Tipping Services which has just four lorries. "It's getting plain daft now with these fuel increases," he adds.

The blockade at the Esso depot appears to be largely spontaneous, arranged through the hauliers' network. This is not about competing abroad. All the drivers present work only in Britain. Mr Thurgood is based in Maidstone just over the Dartford bridge from the Purfleet depot.

A one-man owner-driver, Mr Thurgood normally does runs up to Scotland carrying lemonade and beer on the outward run and spring water on the return. The eight men have brought deliveries from the Esso depot to a halt. "The management have been out and we've talked to them," says Mr Cernon. "We've agreed to let deliveries through to the emergency services, the fire, police and hospitals."

How long are they prepared to picket? "We're here for as long as it takes," says Mr Cernon.

As we stand by the roadside cars and lorries toot in support. According to the Essex police the Esso depot in Purfleet is one of four sites that are being blockaded. Their action appears to be slowing down petrol deliveries in the Essex area.

While Mr Thurgood's lorry looks like it's just out of the showroom he points out that it is 12 years old. "I used to change it every three to four years but you can't afford it any more. I don't envy any youngster getting into this business now," he says.

If these drivers' main target is fuel prices their second concern is the injustice of foreign drivers working here using cheap fuel from abroad. Mr Thurgood points out that he now finds himself in competition with lorry owner-drivers from East Europe who can load up with a week's fuel before coming over on the ferry to Dover. "That's just not fair is it?" asked Mr Thurgood. "How can we compete against that?"

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