Mass fuel protests fail to materialise

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Indy Politics

The much-hyped mass fuel protests that led to panic buying at the pumps failed to materialise today, with just a handful of demonstrators taking part.

Hundreds of people were expected to turn out at refineries across the country, but the biggest protest stretched to about a dozen outside the Shell refinery in Jarrow, south Tyneside.

Ray Holloway, from the Petrol Retailers Association, said the low turn-out was "really rather predictable".

"Motorists simply must accept that there is going to be no disruption to their petrol and diesel supplies," he said. "They will only exacerbate the problem by panic buying - it is self-inflicted misery."

He went on: "The disruption was caused by messages that occurred earlier in the week which led to panic buying. We have had six days of fuel bought in just two - it is crazy."

Chris Hunt from the UK Petroleum Industry Association said today's protest had proved "thankfully amazingly quiet".

"Any protests have been fairly small, fairly low key and not obstructing drivers' movement at all," he said.

Mr Hunt said the police were on stand-by to react to any protest and that plans to avoid the chaos of 2000 had been put in place.

"We definitely will get nothing like 2000," he said. "That will not happen in the UK again, things have moved on a lot since then."

At 8am members of the media covering the protest still outnumbered the dozen or so protestors outside the Shell refinery in Jarrow, south Tyneside.

Andrew Spence, the farmer and haulier who was a prime mover in the 2000 protests with the People's Fuel Lobby, had arrived there at 6am.

Mr Spence insisted he had never intended this to be a mass demonstration. He said: "We didn't want a lot of people here, I would rather there was just a handful of us."

He said he had kept his vow not to blockade the depot and cause disruption to the fuel supply, and said that if 200 demonstrators had arrived today there would have been a danger of that happening.

"Some of these people are facing financial ruin, and how can I, as an individual, stop someone with a 32-ton eight-wheeler from parking up outside, throwing the keys away and making a statement?"

But he said the protest was taking off elsewhere.

He said: "I know what is happening down south. We have set the domino effect off up here."

About a dozen protesters gathered at the entrance to an oil terminal in Purfleet, Essex, 15 miles from the main Coryton refinery.

Holding placards saying Support British Hauliers and End Labour's War on the Motorist, they stood quietly and made no attempt to prevent tankers entering or leaving the depot.

One of the protesters, who did not want to be named, said: "It's a big letdown. We were hoping for a couple of hundred people."

Another, James Hart, who runs a haulage firm in Dover, Kent, added: "It is disappointing. I think the problem is people can't afford to take time off work.

"I'm not sure what we're going to do now. We'll have to wait and see what happens."

It was business as usual at Kingsbury oil terminal in north Warwickshire, with a steady stream of tankers leaving and arriving.

The terminal - Britain's largest inland facility - distributes fuel for a number of companies, including Total, Shell, Jet, Texaco and BP.

Warwickshire Police said it had contingency plans to deal with disruption after Kingsbury was one of the focal points of the 2000 protests.

But their resources appeared unstretched as no protesters had arrived by 6am.

Fuel protesters also failed to materialise outside either of the large refineries in west Wales, in line with the assurances of protest leaders yesterday.

Both the Texaco refinery in Pembroke and the Total refinery in Milford Haven were blockaded by protesters five years ago.

A spokesman for the region's Texaco refinery said today: "There is no sign of any protest. It is business as usual."

A spokesman for the Total refinery said: "It is very calm everywhere."

Mr Spence insisted today's action had not been a damp squib.

From Jarrow he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If we hadn't basically said that we would be returning to the refineries the media wouldn't have highlighted the issue as it has done, I doubt that the Government would have given us the 1.2p freeze in duty proposed for October. I like to think that we have achieved something this week."

He insisted that there was a need to protest.

"We have returned to the refinery at Jarrow in the North East as a symbol of five years since we were here. Five years on, still no further forward, still the same taxation rates.

"We [hauliers] are not making any money at this. It is because of the high cost of fuel. My fuel has gone up from £7,000 a month to £11,000 a month."

The protesters at Jarrow included farmers, a roofing contractor and even a blacksmith, who said they feared fuel prices would see them going out of business.

Eric Dews, 48, of Burnopfield, Co Durham, told PA: "I am an owner driver, I operate one truck delivering bricks throughout the country and it is becoming harder and harder due to the high price of fuel.

"I am slowly going out of business, it is as simple as that."

He said he heard about the protest on the television and decided to join to back up his principles, rather than in the hope that it would see results.

He said larger operators were able to absorb the price increases and manage on smaller profit margins.

He said: "I have been self-employed for 22 years and I am finding it more difficult than I ever have due to the high price of fuel."

Jo Forster, 33, of Consett, works with her agricultural engineer husband Michael mending farming machinery.

She said: "If the price of fuel goes up we have to put on the cost to our customers. We have to do it."