Big freeze throws return to work into chaos

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The Independent Online

Freezing conditions caused havoc on Britain's return to work yesterday and the AA reported 3,000 calls an hour from motorists whose cars would not start.

The organisation drafted in more than 400 extra patrol staff to cope but drivers in difficulty were still asked to be patient amid long delays.

As the north experienced the worst of the chill, police provided hot drinks and anti-freeze on the hard shoulder of the M1, M18 and the A1M, in Yorkshire when screenwash froze solid on windscreens, forcing drivers to pull over. Motorists also battled against freezing fog as temperatures plunged.

"Screenwash that is not full strength or that is diluted will instantly freeze up and even the full strength screenwash is freezing up," said Sergeant Steve Wain, of South Yorkshire Police. "Traffic officers and patrol cars are offering ... neat, undiluted screenwash to the many drivers who stopped on the hard shoulder."

The South Yorkshire force joined many others across the North in advising motorists not to venture out.

The death toll in the cold snap seems likely to increase to five, as hopes faded for a 14-year-old boy who vanished on a late-night fishing trip on New Year's Eve.

Police and coastguards launched a land and air search for James Nolan, who is feared to have slipped on an icy pontoon and fallen into the water at Hamble Marina, Hampshire.

Police, who found James' fishing tackle and gloves lying on the pontoon, said yesterday: "It was an extremely cold night and, clearly, we have to explore the possibility that James may have fallen into the river. The pontoon was extremely icy."

In Surrey, where ice has been causing road mayhem since the weekend, black ice was blamed for a further 60 accidents in the space of three hours yesterday

A spokesman for Surrey Police said the A3 and the A31 and smaller roads to the west of the county were scenes of particular chaos.

He said: "Most of these incidents are down to the sun melting some ice – but the roads are still icy in shaded areas and some drivers are just not thinking about it."

In Scotland, the cold weather that obliterated the traditional New Year's Day sporting calendar continued to disrupt fixtures – Kilmarnock were forced to cancel last night's televised Scottish Premier League match against Rangers because of a frozen pitch.

After temperatures of minus 10C (14F)in Aberdeen, minus 9C in Hereford and minus 3C in London in the early hours of yesterday, meteorologists were predicting increasingly mild weather with some rain today, particularly in the west – though the east should remain very frosty.

* A mountain rescue was under way yesterday after three people were reported to have fallen 700ft at a Scottish mountain range popular among climbers and snowboarders, police said.

An RAF helicopter was scrambled from Lossiemouth and Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team was called to the scene of the incident at Stob Ban, in the Fort William area.

A spokesman for the mountain rescue team said the three had slid down the mountain face and were seen by another group of climbers who contacted the emergency services. The climbers are not thought to have been seriously injured.