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The BBC's Alex Watson
"The situation will take some time to return to normal"
 real 56k

John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister
"Lets get back to common sense and now lets get oil distributed back in this country"
 real 28k

The BBC's Robin Chrystal in Cardiff
"Many nurses themselves have run out of fuel"
 real 28k

Petrol Retailers Association spokesman, Ray Holloway
"I have not yet heard a politician acknowledge that the ordinary motorist is part of this dispute"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 13 September, 2000, 04:42 GMT 05:42 UK
Tankers back on UK roads
Tankers pulling out of depot
On the move: The first tankers have left the depots
Some petrol tankers were back on the roads in the UK on Wednesday - but the fuel crisis is still a long way from ending.

Tankers left five major depots around the country on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning under police protection.

But protesters were in many cases promised the fuel would only be delivered to essential services such as hospitals and the emergency services.

However, eight tankers left the Stanlow oil refinery in Cheshire, where the protests began last week, without the agreement of protesters and under police escort.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair: Everything in place to get tankers moving
Stanlow protest leader Brynle Williams told reporters: "It looks like the end's about to come."

Nearly three-quarters of the UK's 13,000 petrol stations will remain dry, and those campaigning overnight vowed they would continue their protests.

The first tankers moved off hours after the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said the fuel situation should be "on the way back to normal" by Wednesday evening, after a day of emergency discussions with oil companies, ministers and the police.

Mr Blair insisted at a Downing Street press conference they could not "possibly, responsibly" introduce an emergency budget to alter taxes on fuel.

Instead, the government invoked emergency powers to try to end the crisis.

Applause and abuse

Shortly after 1930 BST five tankers left Purfleet refinery in Essex.

At about 2230 BST, a convoy of 10 fuel tankers were given a police escort as they left the Grangemouth BP oil refinery on the Firth of Forth in Scotland with supplies for the emergency services.

Tankers also left the BP refinery at Coryton near Southend in Essex, the Manchester Fuels Terminal, the BP Oil Terminal at Hamble, near Southampton, Hampshire, the Stanlow refinery in the north-west of England, and the Cattedown depot in Plymouth.

The movement of some tankers was applauded by protesters, while others were met with abuse.

Suffolk Police said they hoped a blockade outside an Ipswich depot could end on Wednesday.

Humberside Police said distributors and their staff would start distributing fuel again from sites north Lincolshire and East Yorkshire from mid-morning on Wednesday.

The moves followed orders made to oil companies by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) - under a special dispensation by the Privy Council - to deliver petrol to hundreds of priority stations.

'Breaking point'

A DTI spokesman said on Tuesday evening: "These are specified sites that we have asked oil companies to prioritise and those sites are evenly spread across the country."

Protesters outside the Shell oil refinery in Stanlow, Cheshire
Protesters listen to Tony Blair's statement
On Tuesday, it emerged that ministers and officials had drawn up documents, obtained by the BBC, painting a picture of possible food shortages and a fuel situation "near breaking point" after six days of blockades, protests and panic-buying.

BBC political editor Andrew Marr said passages in the "dramatic advice" from Cobra, the government's crisis management team, contained the information that:

  • The oil industry felt the situation was near breaking point

  • The Ministry of Defence was looking at options for military assistance

  • There was severe disruption to the road haulage industry and little fuel leaving refineries and fuel depots

  • Consequential food shortages could be expected in the next few days

  • Ministers were going to have to take decisions on possible measures for restricting the sale of fuel.

Empty garages
Shell: 1,070 out of 1,100
Texaco: 1,000 out of 1,500
Esso: 850 out of 1,600
BP: 1,000 out of 1,500
The police had agreed to do "all that is necessary" to protect against intimidation, said Mr Blair.

"We hope in the next 24 hours to have the situation on the way back to normal. It will take longer than that to be fully back to normal," he added.

He said whatever the rights or wrongs of the argument over fuel duty the government and nation could not accept that policy should be dictated by illegal blockades, pickets or direct action.

But Tory leader William Hague accused the government of failing to understand people's anger.

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See also:

13 Sep 00 | Business
Protester hits Opec website
12 Sep 00 | Health
Fuel protest bites on NHS
11 Sep 00 | Business
World 'faces oil crisis'
12 Sep 00 | Europe
Fuel crisis grips Europe
12 Sep 00 | Wales
Fuel crisis in Wales deepens
13 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Hague calls for Blair apology
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