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Friday, 3 November, 2000, 13:15 GMT
The men behind the fuel protests
A rag-tag army of farmers and hauliers nearly brought the UK to a halt with their fuel protests in September - and are accused of threatening direct action again if their demands aren't met. Who are these protesters?

Home secretary Jack Straw is mobilising the troops - quite literally - to defeat any return to what he calls the "extreme and irresponsible" fuel blockades the UK endured in September.

Fuel tax protester
Protesters have an uncompromising message
When farmers and lorry drivers, protesting about prices at the petrol pumps, relented and called off pickets outside fuel depots, they gave the government 60 days to make tax concessions.

With that deadline set to expire on 13 November, Mr Straw has vowed to keep fuel supplies flowing.

So who are the protest organisers "threatening the wellbeing of the country"?

Brynle Williams

Two months ago, the sheep and cattle farmer was little known outside the North Wales village of Cilcain, or the Flint branch of the Farmers' Union of Wales.

The 51-year-old is now Britain's 254th most influential figure, according to the Observer newspaper's recent Power List.

Mr Williams became the figurehead for the fuel protesters, when he spoke for those picketing the Stanlow oil refinery - the Cheshire installation widely regarded as the epicentre of the nationwide blockade.

Brynle Williams
Brynle Williams: The UK's 254th most powerful person?
"I'm the voice for it, the face for it ... but we all stand for this collectively," said Mr Williams, who left school at 16 to follow his father and grandfather into agriculture.

Although synonymous with one of the most potent protests of recent times, Mr Williams says the word "militant" is too strong a description of him.

However, the Welshman - who camped out at Stanlow in his Land Rover for a week, only returning home for a wedding - is no novice when it comes to direct action.

He was one of the founding members of Farmers for Action and a veteran of many protests.

Together with near-neighbour Clive Swann, Mr Williams is said to hold sway over fuel protesters in Wales and the Midlands - even if his businessman brother-in-law derided the entire blockade as "brainless".

David Handley

Brynle Williams' critics are not confined to the government and his in-laws. Monmouth dairy farmer David Handley, who is chairman of the People's Fuel Lobby (PFL), has locked horns with his Welsh counterpart.

David Handley
David Handley: Veteran protester
The rift has been put down to a "personality clash" by one insider. However, Mr Williams is reportedly keen that any talk of re-imposing fuel blockades be hushed.

Mr Handley has said the PFL and Farmers for Action - of which he was also a founder - would not disrupt food or power supplies if fuel taxes go unchanged. Another oil blockade has not been ruled out though.

Along with his wife, Mr Handley has targeted supermarkets before, setting up long-running pickets to protest milk prices.

Richard Haddock

Another Farmers for Action veteran, this Devon beef farmer organised fuel demonstrations around Plymouth.

Formerly a delegate to the National Union of Farmers, Mr Haddock is angered that both Mr Williams and Mr Handley have been contacted by the government, while he has not.

Picket line at Stanlow oil refinery
Protesters say fuel depots won't be targeted again
"People are getting very frustrated in the south-west. I'm asking them to be calm," he told BBC News Online.

Since September, Mr Haddock has amassed an arsenal of facts and figures to support his cause and strikes a conciliatory tone more in keeping with Brynle Williams.

"We have no plans to go back to the fuel depots. We're not holding a gun to the government's head - no matter what they say."

Mr Haddock says he wants to see "people power, like in Yugoslavia", rather than picketing, if the government doesn't move towards lowering fuel prices.

"None of us are out to destroy the government, but we may have to push for an early general election."

Other figures

  • Essex haulier Ron Wood was a key figure in the south-eastward spread of the last fuel blockade.

    Frustrated with the moderate Freight Transport Association, Mr Wood helped form Transaction. With perhaps as many as 1,200 members, the group organised London anti-fuel tax demos in June, July and September of 1998.

    This September Mr Wood, with the help of a mobile phone and his fleet of 20 lorries, brought the Coryton oil refinery in Essex to a standstill.

  • Gary Russell urged the UK's 27 million motorists to "Boycott the Pumps" last August from his website. His call was not heeded, with petrol stations reporting brisk trade on the appointed day.

    However, the Essex IT consultant's efforts were not wasted on some. His site was one of the many which are used as rallying points for fuel protesters.



See also:

02 Nov 00 | UK Politics
18 Oct 00 | UK Politics
01 Nov 00 | UK Politics
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