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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2005, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Farmer's fuel price protest flops
By Julie Cush
BBC News website

Farmer Andrew Spence
Protest organiser Andrew Spence accuses police of being 'heavy-handed'
It was meant to spur the nation into anger over rising fuel prices.

But a protest organised outside an oil depot in Jarrow, South Tyneside, fell flat on its face when just 12 demonstrators turned up.

The subdued dozen, mainly farmers and hauliers, arrived without banners and could not even raise a chant to encourage passing motorists to toot their support.

And when police would not even allow them to stand outside the gates of the depot, they meekly went and stood across the road, lowering the key even further of a demonstration that never really took off.

But farmer and organiser Andrew Spence, who founded the People's Fuel Lobby, put a brave face on the low turn out and insisted he did not want hundreds of protesters blockading the refinery.

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said officers had been bracing themselves for between 150 and 200 campaigners when the demonstration began at 0600 BST on Wednesday and admitted "surprise" at the low turn-out.

In all, six officers outside the gates and the waiting media outnumbered the subdued campaigners by two to one.

Fuel protesters
Only a handful of fuel protesters turn out to demonstrate

Mr Spence of Consett, County Durham, insisted his handful of supporters "had made their point."

He said: "We didn't want a lot of people here, I would rather there was just a handful of us.

"I've kept my vow not to blockade the depot and cause disruption to the fuel supply - if 200 demonstrators had arrived today there would have been a danger of that happening.

"But I think the police have been heavy-handed and I am frustrated they have made us park our vehicles a quarter of a mile away from the gates."

But Insp Alan Ritson said parking had been provided in a bay away from the gates to give tankers enough room to get in and out of the refinery.

He said: "There has been no confrontation and the decisions we have made have been to ensure everyone's safety."

Eric Dews, a driver who delivers bricks to builders all over the country, sacrificed a day's wages to take part in the protest.

"One of my workers accidentally spilled fuel recently and it was as if he had lost diamonds, because it is so expensive.
Stewart Robinson, farmer

The self-employed 48-year-old of Burnopfield, County Durham, said: "I drive about 2,000 miles a week and with the tax on fuel it can be a struggle to make ends meet.

"I feel strongly that something has to be done, I work long hours and am often home only one night a week without very much to show for it."

Stewart Robinson, 56, a sheep and cow farmer of Burnmoor Farm, Wark, Northumberland, said he spends 1,500 a week on fuel which he can ill-afford.

He said: "The government is spending a fortune on fuel bombing Iraq, but can't afford to cut fuel prices?

"One of my workers accidentally spilled fuel recently and it was as if he had lost diamonds, because it is so expensive.

"We need to join forces, add our voices together and demand action."

Mr Spence added: "This is an anniversary of five years of campaigning to a government that won't listen. We've always said we'd be here peacefully protesting and never mentioned the word blockade."

No protestors at Stanlow refinery
14 Sep 05 |  Merseyside

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