Sparse protests against petrol prices

A DAY of national protest against rising fuel prices failed to have its desired impact, with only small groups of campaigners meeting across the country.

By Danielle Nuttall

A DAY of national protest against rising fuel prices failed to have its desired impact, with only small groups of campaigners meeting across the country.

Barely more than a dozen people met at any one place yesterday , despite Tuesday's panic buying at the pumps as motorists feared supplies would be jeopardised.

Refineries and oil terminals carried on as usual, with fuel tankers leaving and arriving on schedule.

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But motorists today looked set for some relief at the forecourts amid forecasts the cost of a litre of petrol could fall as much as 4p next week.

During yesterday's planned protests, two hauliers from Sudbury turned up outside the Vopak terminal in Landseer Road, Ipswich – but they were watched by two police officers.

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Simon Rigo and Adrian Williams are both owner-drivers, and said the fuel increases of the last year had had a dramatic effect on their business.

Mr Rigo said: "My fuel bills have gone through the roof, but I can't increase what I charge to my customers. I'd get undercut by foreign hauliers who buy their fuel abroad before coming across here."

The two hauliers said they would be making no attempt to stop lorries leaving the terminal – but if 30 or 40 people had turned up the situation could have changed.

And Mr Rigo accepted that the pumpside panic had helped them get their message across.

He said: "There's been all this panic buying which means that there is less fuel on the garage forecourts so it will hit home much sooner if lorries are stopped."

Braintree haulier Steve Prince joined a go-slow protest on the A120, M11 and M25, ending up at an oil refinery in West Thurrock.

Some three lorries from Steve Prince transport joined in the demonstration calling upon the Government to bring down fuel prices. There were about 25 lorries in total.

Mr Prince said: "We spend £18,000 a month on fuel alone. A penny a litre rise is a big deal. You go across to Europe and they're paying 60-65 pence a litre and we are paying 99p. It needs looking at."

Both Suffolk and Essex Police said there had been no major problems on any roads as a result of the fuel protest.

Some petrol stations were running low on fuel because of the panic buying on Monday and Tuesday, but long queues failed to materialise yesterday.

Elsewhere across the country, fuel protests did not cause the widespread disruption of those in September 2000.

Hundreds of people were expected to turn out, but the biggest protest stretched to about a dozen 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, claimed the protest was always meant to be small.

Meanwhile, experts yesterday said petrol prices were likely to fall from their current average of 96p a litre as refineries start pumping extra oil stocks following the intervention of the International Energy Agency.

Chris Hunt, director general of the UK Petroleum Industry Association, said prices could ease by 3p or 4p as this starts to enter the system.

He said: "Prices should be back down to pre-Katrina levels as that filters through over the next week or so."

The cost of a barrel of oil in New York now stands below 64 US dollars – off the record high of more than 70 US dollars seen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

A spokesman for the AA Motoring Trust said the group was "cautiously" expecting a fall in petrol prices but added: "These things take time to work through."

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