‘Like the end of days’: Drivers stalk petrol tankers and fight at the pumps as fuel crisis deepens

As he was tailed through the streets by motorists desperate for fuel, one tanker driver compared the situation to the “end of days”.

It was just one of the chaotic scenes across the country as panic buying led to brawls on the forecourt and complaints that thousands of people including NHS staff and care workers were unable to fill their cars to get to work.

On Monday it was reported that around 90 per cent of petrol stations had run out of fuel in some areas, as people were seen taking desperate measures including filling up plastic water bottles.

Football matches and bin collections were cancelled and workers only just returning to the office after lockdown were forced to work from home again.

A fire engine was only allowed to fill up a quarter of its tank near Dumfries, Scotland

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, described it as the “Wild West” after queuing all morning for petrol only to be told that the station had sold out.

“Man behind me was furious and started punching the guard,” he said. “Became a melee of 8-10 men on the ground, punching and kicking.”

In Birmingham, thieves allegedly started drilling into petrol tanks to get at the fuel.

But as many filled up their tanks just in case, essential workers including ambulances drivers, medics, care workers and lorry drivers collecting medicines all complained that they were “running on fumes”.

Doctors ‘desperately concerned about patients’

One ambulance driver warned that if they could not fill up they would not be able to attend emergency call-outs. 

Dr Julia Grace Patterson, chief executive of the campaign group EveryDoctor, said that medics were “desperately concerned about patients” who they “cannot care for… if they cannot get to work”.

A hospital consultant in Bedfordshire said that “emergency discussions” were being held as two consultants could not get to work and all four local petrol stations were out of fuel.

Some garages started to give priority to essential workers, checking people’s identification on their way in.

Drivers brawl at a petrol station in Sidlesham, West Sussex

But some care workers complained that they were turned away because they did not work for the NHS, while teachers were told that their job was not essential.

Pressure was growing on the Government on Monday to implement emergency plans to prioritise essential workers.

The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and Unison called on ministers to use emergency powers to “designate fuel stations for the sole use of key workers”.

Rosemary Botting, director and manager of Karosel Care in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, called for immediate action with one of her home carers out of fuel and staff unsure how they would get to clients in rural areas if the crisis continued.

Petrol cost to the consumer on the rise

“This is starting to put people’s lives at risk,” she told The Telegraph. “Some of our service users have medication that they are not able to administer themselves. We have people who would forget to eat, people who cannot get out of bed on their own.

“If they don’t get the care they need it could be fatal.”

Her comments were echoed by Jane Townson, the chief executive of the Homecare Association, who has been engaged in urgent talks with the Department of Health and Social Care, local government representatives and health policymakers

The calls came as people went to desperate lengths to try and find the fuel that was making its way to the pumps, with reports of tankers being stalked across the country.

Unions are calling for fuel to be prioritised for essential workers

David Flatman, the former rugby union player, wrote on social media: “My brother-in-law is a lorry driver and delivers fuel. He’s on the road now and there are people following him – literally tracking his every turn – in cars. He says it’s like end of days.”

Meanwhile, Halford’s revealed that sales of jerry cans increased by 1,656 per cent, while the sale of e-bikes rose by 106 per cent.

An analysis by Carguide.co.uk showed that online searches for electric cars had increased to 16 times the average volume in one day on Friday, when the panic buying started in earnest.

It was sparked after concerns from BP were leaked that the shortage of lorry drivers could affect its ability to keep up with fuel deliveries.

Friday marked the highest number of transactions in a day at petrol stations in recent memory, according to HSBC UK.

Emergency services fear being unable to get to patients

Aggregated customer spending data from the bank showed a two-thirds increase in the value of petrol transactions at stations across the whole of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, compared with the same period a week earlier.

Ministers and petrol companies have repeatedly insisted that there is no shortage, but it has done little to alleviate the pressure at the pumps.

With no immediate sign of the problem easing, Boris Johnson was said to be holding a series of meetings to consider whether to activate the military for Operation Escalin, in which soldiers would be called up to driver tanker trucks.

Brian Madderson, of the Petrol Retailers Association chairman, confirmed some training had been taking place “in the background” for military personnel.

Decline in petrol stations since 2000

Meanwhile, shortages led to cancellations of events including non-league football matches.

Kellie Discipline, the chief executive officer of the Isthmian Football League, said: “We told the clubs that if they were struggling to get players, match officials’ coaches and supporters to the game and they wanted to cancel they could. We will review the situation again towards the end of the week.”

Bin collections at risk of being cancelled

Rochford District Council announced that it was “cancelling the collection of compostable bins” because of the shortage and that there could be delays to refuse collections.

It is also feared that other services could close, as teaching unions are preparing to advise schools to assess their online learning provisions for a potential return to remote learning.

Union leaders said it was the last thing they wanted given the disruption of the past 18 months, but many teachers were unable to get to school or did not have enough fuel to last the week.

Gemma Penny, a headteacher in Derby, said shortages were having a greater impact on schools than Covid-19. “I have had to offer to pay for taxis to ensure staff get to work tomorrow,” she said on social media.

Queues outside a forecourt which ran out of fuel over the weekend

A Surrey school reportedly wrote to parents this weekend saying that “the current petrol crisis could potentially disrupt school next week” and that lessons may have to go back online.

One union admitted that while it did not want to cause panic, it was preparing behind the scenes to advise members to look at their home-learning contingency plans.

Taxi drivers and tradespeople also warned that the shortage would impact their livelihoods and customers.

Taxi drivers are turning down work to conserve what little fuel they have left for regular jobs ferrying children with special needs to school or elderly patients to hospital appointments.

‘No fuel means I can’t drive, which means I can’t get to jobs’

David Lawrie, the director of the Manchester-based National Private Hire and Taxi Association, said that if his drivers could not work it would have a huge knock-on effect on local communities.

“The shortage has been created by panic buying,” he said. “We’re seeing people turn up in old cars they haven’t driven for weeks or gas-guzzling 4X4s, filling them up with £70 worth of fuel just to sit on the drive.”

Self-employed electrician Roland McKibbin, 31, from Beckenham, south-east London, visited four petrol stations and then faced a 90-minute wait before he was able to half-fill his tank on Monday.

“No fuel means I can’t drive, which means I can’t get to jobs with my tools,” he said.

“The panic buying idiots have lost me income, and directly taken food off the table for my wife and five-year-old son, because I can’t wire people’s houses from home, unfortunately.”

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