Petrol station workers hit by 'unacceptable' abuse

Petrol station workers are hit by ‘unacceptable’ abuse as London bears brunt of fuel crisis with MORE brawling in queues, ‘morons’ illegally filling up buckets lined with bin bags and even ambulances stranded amid fears crisis will last a month

  • Petrol station staff are being subjected to ‘unacceptable’ levels of abuse, industry leaders warn
  • But despite pleas for calm, more mass brawls have broken out across Britain over petrol
  • Footage has emerged showing two men filling a bucket lined with a black binliner with unleaded
  • The AA says that London and the South East have been ‘hit hardest’ by the fuel crisis 

Petrol station staff are being subjected to ‘unacceptable’ levels of abuse, industry leaders have warned as London continues to bear the brunt of the ongoing fuel crisis – which has seen ambulances left stranded and could last for another month. 

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) said its latest survey of its members found just over one-in-four forecourts had run dry, down from more than a third on Tuesday, with troops driving tankers expected to appear on the roads ‘in the next couple of days’ to stabilise the situation. 

But despite pleas for calm, more mass brawls have broken out across Britain over petrol. In Epping, Essex yesterday, accusations of queue jumping or taking too much fuel caused a fight to spill out into traffic, with one man involved repeating ‘You didn’t need it’ while launching a series of punches and kicks. 

Amid high demand for fuel and a shortage of jerry cans, footage also emerged showing two men filling a bucket lined with a black binliner with unleaded – a highly dangerous illegal move. The fuel would be certain to dissolve the bag and likely to melt the bucket. 

And an ambulance was even left stranded for four hours after it broke down – and recovery trucks had no fuel to reach it – leaving a vulnerable patient unable to get to hospital in North Wales for an appointment.

Now the crisis threatens to spill over into education as some schools are left on the brink of not being able to transport, feed or teach their pupils. Headteachers now warn that online lessons may have to be brought back.

As drivers queued through the night outside petrol stations for the sixth day running, ever-increasing swathes of the economy and public services also continued to be hit with school buses cancelled, blood deliveries stopped, nurses sleeping on wards and up to a third of London’s black cabs now parked up with empty tanks.

The capital is believed to be one of the worst-hit regions following a weekend of panic buying, with more drivers filling up per station – after recent years saw hundreds of forecourts turned into shops or housing developments. 

President of the AA, Edmund King, told Sky News the organisaion has seen ‘few problems’ in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but the ‘London and the South East have been hit hardest’. He added: ‘We have had reports of drivers dribbling in £1.72p worth of petrol and £2.05 of diesel, which is pretty counter-productive as they would have used those amounts searching for fuel.’  

Industry sources have told The Times that disruption could carry on for weeks, even if panic buying dies down, due to the time it would take to restock petrol stations. One source said they expected BP to keep tackling issues throughout next month.   

Despite appeals to motorists to fill up as normal, PRA executive director Gordon Balmer said forecourt staff were being subjected to a ‘high level’ of both physical and verbal abuse from frustrated motorists.

‘There are encouraging signs that the crisis at the pumps is easing, with forecourts reporting that they are taking further deliveries of fuel,’ he said. ‘However, we are extremely disappointed to hear many forecourt staff are experiencing a high level of both verbal and physical abuse, which is completely unacceptable. 

Yet another fight at the petrol pumps as stressed out drivers fall out after people are accused of cutting into queues or taking too much fuel

A driver pulled a knife on a motorist and was then run over in an alleged row over petrol, footage appears to show. Do you know the man? Let us know: [email protected]

An ambulance was left stranded for four hours when it broke down – and recovery trucks had no fuel to reach it. A backup ambulance was sent to collect them but had to abandon the rescue over concerns it would run out of diesel


Footage has emerged of two men filling a bucket lined with a black binliner with unleaded. The illegal move is highly dangerous, with the fuel certain to dissolve the bag and likely to melt the bucket, with social media users questioning why the owners of the Shell garage failed to intervene.

Earlier, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the situation appeared to be ‘stabilising’ with most people ‘behaving quite responsibly’. As well as deploying troops, he said the Government was sending out vehicles from its reserve tanker fleet, driven by civilian drivers, to provide ‘additional logistical capacity’ to the industry.

PETROL CRISIS COULD SEE RETURN TO ONLINE LEARNING, SCHOOLS WARN 

The petrol crisis now threatens to spill over into education as some schools are left on the brink of not being able to transport, feed or teach their pupils.

Headteachers are demanding a meeting with Nadhin Zahawi, the new Education Secretary, following the cancellation of dozens of school bus services, leaving children unable to get to lessons.

It is believed that some parents had been told their children might not be given food at lunchtime, and milk deliveries to primary schools also faced setbacks, The Telegraph reports.

Some schools now warn that online lessons may have to be brought back.

General secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said he wanted to meet Mr Zahawi ‘as soon as possible’, saying ‘things appear to be getting worse, not better’.

He added: ‘Schools are warning us that they are on a knife edge with staff unable to come into work, attendances down and bus services being cancelled or delayed. 

‘This has serious implications for schools and young people. We need to take action now.’

‘It takes, sometimes, a few days to get troops on the ground. We have decided to do that. I think in the next couple of days you will see some soldiers driving tankers,’ he said in a pooled clip for broadcasters.

Altogether 150 military drivers, together with 150 drivers’ mates, have been on standby since Monday to carry out deliveries to filling stations.  

In a joint statement following talks with Mr Kwarteng, representatives of the fuel industry welcomed the deployment of the reserve tankers and echoed his optimism the situation would continue to stabilise.

The signatories, including Shell, Esso and BP, said: ‘While there has always been plenty of fuel at our refineries and terminals, we are also now seeing signs that the situation at the pumps has begun to improve.’

AA president Edmund King said on Wednesday evening their evidence suggested the pressure at the pumps was easing, with a significant drop in members with ‘our of fuel’ breakdowns.

He said: ‘From speaking to patrols and employees, many of the garages we observed with queues yesterday, were generally functioning well and still had fuel. In general terms, London and the South East have been hit hardest and very few problems were seen in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

‘We still urge drivers to stick to their normal refuelling patterns and not rush to top up. We have had reports of drivers dribbling in £1.72p worth of petrol and £2.05 of diesel which is pretty counter-productive as they would had used those amounts searching for fuel.’

Despite the assurances from ministers, Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association in London, said there was little sign of the situation improving on the ground.

‘Contrary to Boris Johnson’s wish list, it is not getting better,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

‘The situation is that 25% to 30% of our members were not at work yesterday, and unable get fuel to go to work, and a taxi driver without fuel is unemployed.’

Meanwhile the retail fashion giant Next said shortages would continue to plague the wider economy in the run-up to Christmas unless the Government took action to address the ‘looming skills crisis’.

It said the shortage of HGV drivers had been ‘widely predicted for many months’ and called on ministers to relax the immigration rules to avoid further shortfalls.

‘We anticipate that, without some relaxation of immigration rules, we are likely to experience some degradation in our service in the run-up to Christmas,’ it said.

‘For the sake of the wider UK economy, we hope that the Government will take a more decisive approach to the looming skills crisis in warehouses, restaurants, hotels, care homes and many seasonal industries.

‘A demand-led approach to ensuring the country has the skills it needs is now vital.’

The call came as figures from the Department for Transport showed there was a backlog of more than 56,000 applications for vocational driving licences, including HGV and bus, permits waiting to be processed.

Ministers have blamed the pandemic which led to the cancellation last year of tens of thousands of tests.

Drivers queue for fuel at a petrol station in London again on Wednesday – the sixth day running – as Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to reassure the British public claiming that the fuel-supply crisis snarling the country was ‘stabilising’

Vehicles queuing for fuel overnight on the A20 Swanley by-pass in Kent as industry experts warned the crisis could take a month to pass

Christmas in peril: Minister admits there are NO guarantees fuel, HGV and UK’s hospitality and staffing crisis will be over by December 25 

Britain’s Business Secretary admitted he can’t ‘guarantee’ that the UK’s fuel crisis and lorry driver shortage won’t hit Christmas for millions – as his boss Boris Johnson fights to save the festive period.

Kwasi Kwarteng’s warning came as retailers predicted a lack of HGVs and delivery drivers will hit supply chains and also force up prices by December. Trade association UK Hospitality has said that pubs and restaurants are facing disastrous staffing and supply problems that threaten their Christmas.

It came as the UK’s roads are clogged with drivers queueing for fuel because of a lack tanker drivers. In a string of crises for the country, soaring gas prices have hit millions in the pocket and a shortage of CO2 hurting the supply of food and drink.

Mr Kwarteng was asked if he could guarantee that Christmas isn’t going to be affected by the fuel crisis and other issues such as the shortage of HGV drivers.

He replied: ‘I’m not guaranteeing anything. All I’m saying is I think the situation is stabilising. I think people realise that this will pass and we are very very focussed that we are getting enough drivers, we have stepped up military drivers and we are making sure we are getting petrol into the forecourts that can actually mean we have enough supply to meet demand. When we look at figures yesterday, it looks like the inflow of petrol matches the sales’.

Speaking for the first time as the crisis approached a week, Boris Johnson on Tuesday urged frustrated drivers to remain calm as violent scenes compared to the ‘Wild West’ erupted at petrol stations around the country. 

Fist fights are regularly breaking out and one driver even appeared to threaten another with a knife. The ugly confrontations led to fears among police chiefs that officers may be drafted in to guard garages if the crisis continues.

Petrol stations face disruption for up to a month even if panic buying stops, industry figures have warned as the Army is set to start driving fuel tankers to petrol stations this week – despite Mr Johnson’s claim petrol panick-buying is ‘stabilising’.

The Prime Minister was accused of a ‘half-baked’ response to the fuel crisis earlier tonight as he dismissed calls for key workers to get priority at petrol stations.  

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was asked if he could guarantee that Christmas isn’t going to be affected by the fuel crisis and other issues such as the shortage of HGV drivers.

He replied: ‘I’m not guaranteeing anything. All I’m saying is I think the situation is stabilising. I think people realise that this will pass and we are very very focussed that we are getting enough drivers, we have stepped up military drivers and we are making sure we are getting petrol into the forecourts that can actually mean we have enough supply to meet demand. When we look at figures yesterday, it looks like the inflow of petrol matches the sales’.

He added that soldiers will be deployed to help ease the fuel crisis, telling Sky News: ‘It takes a couple of days, sometimes a few days to get troops on ground. People will see some soldiers driving tanker fleet’.

The PM has resisted calls for the Army to be called in but from today around 150 military hauliers are undergoing training to become fuel tanker drivers and are expected to qualify within the next few days. A government source said there were no plans to deploy them and that they would be on standby as ‘an insurance policy’.

This driver showed the queues in Leicester in the pouring rain last night as the Army was drafted in to deliver fuel

The Petrol Retailers Association has said the situation is improving with a third of independent forecourts out of fuel – compared to up to 90% earlier in the week

There were tentative signs that the situation was improving last night, with the Petrol Retailers Association saying that around 37 per cent of the 5,500 independent forecourts it represents were out of fuel. This was down from between 50 per cent and 90 per cent the day before.

But the long queues remain, hitting those who need fuel to keep homes running, care for people in the community and keep the NHS ticking. 

School buses in Buckinghamshire have been disrupted – with the owner of one fleet saying it has become a ‘cat and mouse’ game to fill up, managing to find fuel at around 3am because some garages are refusing to let large vehicles use their pumps.

Buckingham Council tweeted: ‘Due to fuel shortages, there are a number of school buses cancelled. We apologise for the inconvenience this is causing. Parents and schools have been notified.’

Volunteers who deliver vital blood products to hospitals for the NHS have been hit by ‘frustrating’ fuel shortages. Up to half of ‘bloodrunners’ in Kent have been unable to go out on runs in recent days because of problems getting fuel. 

Johan Pieterse from SERV Kent, a charity that transports crucial blood products for hospitals in the county for free out of hours, said the challenges were ‘frustrating’. He said: ‘God forbid someone is in hospital needing a blood product or someone is at home and they can’t get it because we are stuck in queues of traffic’. 

Boris Johnson tried to calm the chaos by urging the public to ‘fill up in the normal way when you really need it’, although he also warned that the government is working on ‘getting through to Christmas and beyond’. 

But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has now signed off the request for military assistance, with up to 300 troops able to be deployed if required. 

All military drivers are qualified to be behind the wheel of HGVs but they may need three days’ training to learn how to fill petrol stations with fuel. 

Risking infuriating motorists who have been facing extraordinary carnage across the country, Johnson earlier laid the blame on a ‘slightly misleading’ account of the shortages of lorry drivers causing an ‘understandable surge in public demand’.  

‘I would really urge everybody to go about their business in the normal way and fill up in the normal way when you really need it,’ he said.

‘What we want to do is to make sure we have all the preparations needed to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in supply for petrol stations but all parts of the supply chain.’ 

Pressed on whether he would be calling it a crisis if anyone else was in No10, Mr Johnson said: ‘What we have is a recovery after a global pandemic.’ 

The intervention, in a statement from Downing Street, came as the Labour leader weighed in, saying the issues over drivers had been ‘entirely predictable’ and the government’s limp response had resulted in ‘chaos’. 

In a round of interviews from his party conference in Brighton, Sir Keir called for the length of emergency visas for foreign HGV drivers to be doubled to six months.

But he refused to say that Brexit was ‘to blame’, instead arguing that it was an inevitable consequence of the decision that was taken. Aides said the PM’s brief chat with broadcasters exposed that there was still ‘no plan’ and the government was complacent. 

The PM (pictured on Wednesday) tried to calm the chaos by urging the public to ‘fill up in the normal way when you really need it’ as he stressed that there is no need for panic buying

All military drivers are qualified to be behind the wheel of HGVs but they may need three days’ training to learn how to fill petrol stations with fuel. Pictured, British Army tankers on the move on the A1 near Ripon in North Yorkshire in 2000

In a round of interviews from Labour conference in Brighton, Keir Starmer said the issues over drivers had been ‘entirely predictable’ and the government’s response far too slow

Two men brawling at a London petrol station after one accused the other of jumping the queue for fuel

Fuel crisis ‘could drive up Covid cases’  

Britain’s petrol crisis could drive up Covid cases if commuters rush back onto buses and trains, experts said amid fears the country is on the cusp of a fourth wave.

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, claimed there could ‘certainly’ be a spike as a result of the fuel shortage. Other scientists said it was ‘plausible’.

Hundreds of forecourts across the country have already been run dry by panic buyers, which it’s thought may lead to a sudden clamour for public transport.

Shocking footage showed drivers throwing punches and even brandishing knives during chaotic scenes at petrol stations on Monday.

Doctors and nurses have demanded they are given priority for fuel, saying they need to be able to get to hospitals to treat patients.

Professor Hunter told MailOnline: ‘The move to public transport could certainly increase transmission. And, if the majority of people are not wearing face coverings, then that would make that transmission worse.’

SAGE has previously warned that if commuter levels suddenly return to pre-pandemic levels then it could fuel a fresh wave. 

The comments came as more fighting broke out on Britain’s ‘Wild West’ petrol forecourts, with drivers throwing punches and even pulling knives as violent rows broke out in the long queues.

However, minister insist there are ‘tentative’ signs the crisis will ease this week.

Mr Johnson was making his own position clear for the first time, as MPs slammed his decision not to bring in soldiers to deliver fuel immediately to ‘regain public confidence’ and petrol stations started rationing fuel sales at £30. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘I want to say, first of all, how much I sympathise with people who’ve been worried about their journeys, worried about whether they’ll be able to use their cars in the normal way, to see their loved ones or whatever it is, and I know how frustrating, infuriating it must have been to worry about shortage of petrol or fuel.

‘We now are starting to see the situation improve; we’re hearing from (the) industry that supplies are coming back on to the forecourt in the normal way.

‘I would just stress that on the forecourts the situation is stabilising and people should be confident and just go back to their business in the normal way.’

Asked whether he agreed that key workers needed priority at the pumps, Mr Johnson said he ‘understands why people say that’ but suggested that instead the situation should ‘stabilise in a normal way’.   

On the wider issues, the premier repeated his mantra that wages and training must improve for Britons, rather than bringing in more foreign labour.

‘The actual number of lorry drivers that we’re short in that particular sector isn’t very big. But generally there is a shortage in that profession around the world,’ he said.

‘And what we want to see is an emphasis on high wage, a high-skill, a high-productivity approach to our economy. 

A fuel tanker is seen at a petrol and diesel filling station at Begelly in Pembrokeshire, Wales on Tuesday evening

A fuel tanker was pictured filling up a station in Begelly, Pembrokeshire, on Tuesday evening

How can I carry fuel legally from a petrol station – and can I store it at home?

A motorist fills up her vehicle with fuel from a jerry can at a petrol station in London

What containers can I use to store petrol?

The legislation allows you to store petrol in the following containers:

  • plastic containers storing up to 10 litres
  • metal containers storing up to 20 litres
  • demountable fuel tank up to 30 litres

Suitable portable containers are defined as being ‘robust’, ‘will not significantly degrade due to exposure to petrol’ and must be marked with the words ‘PETROL’ and ‘HIGHLY FLAMMABLE’. If it is plastic it must be made of a moulded polyethylene.

Does the petrol in the fuel tank of my car count towards the total I can store?

No – the petrol in the fuel tank of your vehicle, including boats and aircraft, does not count when you are calculating the total amount you are storing.

How much petrol can I store in a vehicle?

You can store up to 30 litres of petrol in a maximum of 2 suitable containers in your vehicle. 

How to store fuel at home?

The Health and Safety Executive says you can legally store 30 litres of petrol at your home but there are strict guidelines about how and where you should put it, because fuel is highly flammable.

It must be kept in:

a) in a shed

b) in a garage

c) Outside no more than six metres from your house – ie, at the end of a drive. 

But officials at the AA recommend people that they ‘shouldn’t even contemplate storing it at all’.

‘What I don’t think people in this country want to do is fix all our problems with uncontrolled immigration. Again, we tried that for a long time – 20 years or so, perhaps longer.

‘And in the end, people could see that it was leading to a low-wage, low-skill approach without enough investment in people or in equipment, in capital. And that’s not the way we want the UK to develop and grow.’

Speaking to BBC News in Brighton, the Labour leader said: ‘The Government has reduced the country to chaos as we track from crisis to crisis and the Government is not gripping this.

‘I spoke to the haulage sector this morning to the businesses that are absolutely in the middle of this, and they are beyond frustrated and these were their words, they said it’s a Government that is denying there’s a problem, then blaming somebody else, and then coming up with a half-baked plan. What I would do is give priority to key workers this week.

‘And I would issue enough visas for lorry drivers for long enough. At the moment there was some talk this morning on the discussion that the pieces may not even begin until November. And we have to take action today.

‘The Prime Minister should take that action today, prioritise key workers and start issuing enough visas and for long enough. The strong view this morning was that three months visas won’t work, they’ve got to be six months visas.

‘But this problem was predictable and predicted and the Government has absolutely failed to plan.’

Sir Keir resisted blaming Brexit for the shortage of HGV drivers but accepted it was partly a consequence of leaving the European Union.

Speaking to Channel 5 News, the Labour leader said: ‘I wouldn’t say that Brexit is to blame. What I would say is that it was inevitable as we exited the EU that we needed a plan to deal with drivers. That is obvious whether you voted Remain or voted Leave, and we took that decision years ago.

‘And here we are with a shortage of drivers which was completely predictable and predicted – and the Government hasn’t got a plan.’

But later speaking to Sky News, Sir Keir said: ‘What is the sole cause of this problem? The Government has known for some time that there are consequences of us leaving the EU, one of which is lorry drivers.’

Earlier, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claimed the pressure on filling stations is beginning to ease and insisted the Army would remain on standby despite admitting the queues will not disappear yet.  

‘There are now the first very tentative signs of stabilisation in forecourt storage which won’t be reflected in the queues as yet,’ he said in a pooled TV clip. 

‘But it is the first time that we have seen more petrol actually in the petrol stations. The sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal.’ 

As one driver was seen filling mineral water bottles with petrol, he said: ‘No more water bottles at petrol stations: it’s dangerous and not helpful’.

New video has emerged of two men punching and kicking each other across a London Shell station in a row about whose turn it was to fill up. Two women yelling ‘what the f*** are you doing’ broke up the punch-up as one of the fighters pointed at his foe and yelled: ‘He stole my place’. 

Amid widespread scenes of enormous queueing across Britain’s forecourts, footage emerged of a man holding what appears to be a knife shouting at a driver outside a petrol station in Welling, south east London. The video then shows the car ramming into the alleged knifeman, who is then carried for several yards on the bonnet.  

And it is proving so difficult to get fuel, thieves have been siphoning it from cars, sometimes drilling into the petrol tank, Shadrack Olaloko, from Birmingham, said: ‘What these guys did was they came and drained out all my fuel in the tank’. 

Drivers pack into Wisley South Services in Surrey this morning beside a near deserted A3

The brawls broke out as motorists reported queues at 11pm, 3am and 5.30am across the UK as the Government was accused of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ and critics questioned claims within Whitehall that the crisis will be over within two to three days. 

Mike Granatt, former head of Britain’s civil contingencies secretariat, the section of the Cabinet Office responsible for emergency planning in the UK, said on Wednesday that the Prime Minister should give a TV press conference on the fuel crisis, as Tony Blair did in 2000. He said: ‘It’s called leadership. And we need some. Someone needs to stand up and say this to people rather than hide away’.

Government’s emergency fuel plan suggests rationing and priority pumps for NHS and police are on the way 

Rationing of fuel and filling stations just for emergency workers are the likely next steps in the crisis, Government documents reveal.

Under an emergency government plan (pictured), key workers could be given ‘priority access’ to a number of petrol stations. 

The plan involves capping the amount of fuel drivers can buy and letting critical workers have ‘priority access’ to pumps.

Another option, the designated filling station scheme, could see ’emergency and critical service vehicles’ having priority access. This was done by Tony Blair’s government during the 2000 fuel crisis.

The document, published last year, reveals the Government’s next steps are:

Designated Filling Station scheme: Emergency and critical service vehicles would be given priority access to road fuel from filling stations

Bulk Distribution Scheme: Oil companies and fuel distributors can be directed to prioritise the delivery of bulk petroleum products to critical services such as emergency services, utilities and public transport.

Commercial Distribution Scheme: Oil companies and fuel distributors can be directed to prioritise the supply of road diesel to the commercial vehicles sector to support the operation of key supply chains, such as food and health.

Maximum Purchase Scheme (rationing): This restricts the sale of road fuels at retail filling stations to the public to a maximum amount per visit to ensure that all motorists have access to some fuel.

The scheme can also limit the hours in which road fuels can be sold.

Crude Oil and Imported Product Allocation Scheme: Government can formally allocate crude oil and other imported oil products within the UK.  

Tobias Ellwood, chair of Parliament’s Defence Committee, has said the army should be mobilised, not just put on standby, to ‘regain public confidence’ and stop the fuel crisis.

The Conservative MP told Sky News: ‘The country wants to see the Government is in command and it has a clear cross-Whitehall plan. 

‘We have gone from 1 per cent fuel pump shortages to 90 per cent so altering people’s buying behaviour to prevent the panic buying and going back to previous purchasing patterns requires regaining the confidence of the nation.

‘I believe the army should not just be put on standby but in fact mobilised, be seen to be used. 

That will help ease the pressure on shortages of course, it will return public confidence, and then on top of that there is the bigger issue about articulating a clear strategy to alleviate the chronic shortage of lorry drivers.’

Such is the panic at the pumps, hundreds more people than usual have been filling up on the wrong fuel. Around 250 flustered drivers have had to be rescued by the AA’s specialist ‘fuel assist’ team on Saturday and Sunday – compared to around 20 in normal circumstances. 

One tanker driver told LBC that even they are struggling for fuel because they are spending so much time in queues with drivers also blocking access to HGV pumps. 

An industry source said while the claim could be ‘credible’, it is likely to be an isolated incident.

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said Britain’s petrol stations had becoming the ‘Wild West’ after he queued for fuel only for it to sell out before everyone got to the pumps. 

He said: ‘Man behind me was furious and started punching the guard’, adding it ‘became a melee of 8-10 men on the ground, punching and kicking’. 

The Government is putting the military on standby after a widespread shortage of truck drivers, which has led to serious supply problems for retailers and restaurants in the past few months, meaning plentiful stocks of fuel have not reached filling stations. 

But critics have said Boris Johnson has known for months that there is a lack of HGV drivers but ministers have had had their ‘heads in the sand’. The Prime Minister has 150 soldiers ready to drive tankers but they will not be brought in yet with one Government source telling The Times: ‘We believe that the crisis will recede in the next few days’.

Grant Shapps has rejected criticism that the Government has been too slow to mobilise the Army to help deal with the fuel crisis.

Ministers announced on Monday they were putting troops on standby to deliver supplies as filling stations continued to run dry.

In a pool clip for broadcasters, Mr Shapps said: ‘There is a series of escalations that you go through in a crisis like this.

‘We have already put 18 different steps in place which stretch right the way back to the spring.

‘The system was just about coping until last weekend and it would have been capable of continuing to do so.

‘Unfortunately, as we have seen with toilet rolls and other things, once people start to pursue a particular item, it can quickly escalate.

‘But there is only so much petrol you can transfer into tanks. That is starting to work its way through.’  

He said that Brexit has been a ‘factor’ in the current fuel crisis.

A member of staff directing the queues at Tesco petrol station at Bar Hill near Cambridge this afternoon in a rain storm

Ascot high street is blocked with cars quitting to get petrol at one of the only fuel stations in the area. Customers are limited to £30 per car

The high street in Ascot was blocked in rush hour this morning after one petrol station in the area got a delivery of fuel

Fuel shortages escalate due to panic buying, as the Shell petrol station near Clapham South has run out

Drivers queue for fuel at an Esso petrol station in Bournville, Birmingham

A closed petrol station in Manchester, as the Government insisted the tide is now turning in the crisis

There is a driver shortage across Europe – with the largest deficit found in Poland followed by Britain and Germany

Mr Shapps said the primary cause of the shortages had been the cancellation of HGV driver testing last year due to the pandemic.

However, he added: ‘Brexit I hear mentioned a lot and it no doubt will have been a factor.

‘On the other hand, it has actually helped us to change rules to be able to test more drivers more quickly.

‘So, it has actually worked in both ways.’

Mr Shapps condemned motorists who tried to fill up plastic water bottles with petrol as the panic buying continued.

‘It is dangerous and extremely unhelpful,’ he said.

Under an emergency government plan, key workers could be given ‘priority access’ to a number of petrol stations. The plan involves capping the amount of fuel drivers can buy and letting critical workers have ‘priority access’ to pumps, The Telegraph reports. 

Another option, the designated filling station scheme, could see ’emergency and critical service vehicles’ having priority access. This was done by Tony Blair’s government during the 2000 fuel crisis. 

Some areas have already seen bin collections cancelled, and teaching unions have warned that schools could need to go back to online learning if teachers cannot drive to work. 

A 49-year-old woman, whose parents both have terminal cancer, fears she will be unable to reach the hospital in an emergency after her car ran out of fuel.

The woman from Wilmslow, Cheshire – who did not wish to give her name – said she had to abandon her vehicle in a car park with a message in the window.

‘In a nutshell, if I get a call to hospital I’d not have the diesel to make the journey – very stressful and upsetting, to be honest,’ she told the PA news agency.

‘I’ve had to abandon my car at three miles… (I) left it in the car park with a message in the window explaining why the car has been left and walked home. I just have to hope the car is safe overnight.

‘I won’t be able to see my dad or, in an emergency, (won’t be) able to go to the hospital.’

Volunteers who deliver vital blood products to hospitals for the NHS in Kent have been hit by ‘frustrating’ fuel shortages, a charity says.

Johan Pieterse, secretary and trustee for SERV Kent, said: ‘We have had a drop-off of about 50 per cent of our members who can’t go on rota because they can’t get fuel since Friday night.

‘It’s frustrating because we don’t see the need for the panic buying and all it’s doing is it’s affecting all emergency services, not just us.

‘God forbid someone is in hospital needing a blood product or someone is at home and they can’t get it because we are stuck in queues of traffic.’

Mr Pieterse said that while the charity has managed to cover all its pick-ups and deliveries, some had been delayed and they had been unable to access their headquarters because of queuing traffic.

Pressure on filling stations is starting to ease although demand for fuel remains ‘well above the norm’, the chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association has said.

Brian Madderson said there were indications of ‘a move towards equilibrium’ later in the week.

‘The extreme demand levels witnessed over the weekend have eased somewhat,’ he told Sky News.

‘There are still demand levels well above the norm and as a result many of our members have sites dry. Many of the big groups are down to around 50% of their sites.

‘There is still a problem out there. There is still a bit of panic buying, there is still queuing, but we are hopeful that we are seeing the first signs of a move towards equilibrium later in the week.’

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said health and care workers should be given priority at petrol pumps to prevent ‘people losing their lives’. 

After a dizzying 24 hours of dithering over the use of soldiers to plug the HGV driver gap, ministers agreed to put the Army on standby. It is hoped that panic-buying will ease this week to reduce pressure on fuel supplies. But if the crisis does not abate, ministers will trigger ‘Operation Escalin’.

About 150 military tanker drivers were put into a state of readiness under the operation, sources said. Some of them will receive further training in the next few days to be able to deliver fuel if required. The operation, originally conceived in case of a no-deal Brexit, could potentially see hundreds of troops brought in to help.   

Chairman of the British Medical Association council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, told The Times that ‘everyone will have their own reasons for needing to fill up, but as pumps run dry there is a real risk that NHS staff won’t be able to do their jobs and provide vital services and care to people who urgently need it’. 

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