Fuel shortages: Police tell public to stop calling about petrol station queues

Some regional forces start contingency planning but police vehicles currently unaffected, senior officers say

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 27 September 2021 19:45
UK eases competition rules for fuel industry as petrol stations run dry

Police have appealed for drivers to stop calling them about queues at petrol stations as shortages continue.

Some forces are starting to draw up contingency plans for refuelling vehicles, but national leaders say there has not yet been an impact on the ability to respond to crime.

Essex Police said it had received more than 100 calls about congestion around petrol stations since Friday, mostly over traffic concerns.

“We know it's frustrating but unless there’s a collision or a crime has been committed, being stuck in traffic isn’t a reason to call us,” a spokesperson added.

“We’d also urge people not to abuse staff at petrol stations.”

Lincolnshire Police said its control room had received calls asking for “a list of petrol stations in the county which currently have supplies left” – which it does not have.

A spokesperson added: “We believe there are some people buying more fuel than they actually need. This has resulted in some retail fuel outlets not being able to restock quickly enough to keep up with demand. We are asking people to only buy the fuel they need rather than stock up, and to be sensible at petrol stations to avoid any queueing that would be an obstruction to the roads.”

Humberside Police said there was no fuel shortage in the area but “concerns circulating in the media” had caused panic buying and congestion.

Several other regional forces reported receiving calls about long queues at petrol stations, and urged people not to report traffic jams unless they risk causing harm to pedestrians or other road users.

Despite some fights and scuffles no major disorder has been reported at petrol stations so far, but concern is mounting over a potential increase in fuel theft.

We are asking people to only buy the fuel they need rather than stock up, and to be sensible at petrol stations to avoid any queueing that would be an obstruction to the roads

The Independent understands that individual police forces are responding to issues and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) is not yet coordinating any operations or logistics for police vehicles.

The Metropolitan Police said it has a “dedicated fuel supply which remains robust” and there were no issues with supplying vehicles with fuel.

“Across London, police officers continue to respond to emergencies as normal,” a spokesperson said.

“Likewise, the Met continues to monitor concerns over fuel supply to filling stations across London. At this time, there have been no reports of serious incidents or issues of overcrowding. Officers remain highly visible in communities, keeping people safe and responding to crime.”

West Midlands Police, which is one of Britain’s largest forces, said its fleet of vehicles was currently on the road as normal.

But a spokesperson added: “We are due to meet with partners later today to discuss the future position and any contingency plans.

“Officers are not being sent to petrol stations to help coordinate queues – but we will respond to any calls of disorder as part of normal business.”

Surrey Police said it was working with other authorities in a Local Resilience Forum and has “pre-prepared plans in place to assist with refuelling operational vehicles”.

Localised shortages were having a knock-on impact on other parts of the criminal justice system, as some lawyers struggled to reach courts for hearings.

Cars queue for fuel at a BP petrol station in Bracknell, Berkshire

The increased use of a virtual hearing system since the start of the coronavirus pandemic means that most proceedings can be attended by video-link with a judge’s permission.

A spokesperson for the Law Society of England and Wales said: “It will be for the judge to decide in each individual case whether he or she will allow someone to appear remotely.

“There is no automatic right to do so, nor can HM Courts and Tribunals Service issue a directive to require it, but we hope judges will be understanding of the difficulty our members and other court professionals and users may face as a result of the shortages.”

Ministers issued a fresh appeal to motorists to stop “panic buying” as Boris Johnson drew back from plans to deploy troops to ensure fuel supplies reach forecourts on Monday.

Downing Street said the government was monitoring the situation on a daily basis but there were currently no plans to use the military to drive fuel tankers.

However there was little sign of the queues easing, while doctors’ groups warned some medical staff were struggling to get to work because they could not fill up their cars.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said designated petrol stations should be reserved for key workers, so they can travel to work and provide essential services.

“In the fuel crisis of September 2000, the government brought in rules designating specific filling stations for essential workers, enabling the capital to keep moving,” he added.

”The government must urgently look at taking the necessary steps putting such measures in place.”

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) blamed the dash to fill up on the leak last week of concerns by BP about some shortages of tanker drivers needed to deliver fuel supplies.

PRA chairman Brian Madderson said stations were currently being restocked, although fewer deliveries than normal were being quickly exhausted because of continued panic buying.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has temporarily suspended competition laws to allow the industry to share information so it can target areas where fuel supply is running low.

The government is creating 5,000 three-month visas for foreign lorry drivers in an attempt to ease a shortage of hauliers, which has been blamed for the problems with petrol and other goods distribution.

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