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Chariman Shell UK, Malcolm Brinded
"There are scores of instances of personal abuse"
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Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 12:35 GMT
Oil protesters 'not peaceful'
A tanker passes through a blockade during the crisis
Drivers were subject to intimidation say oil companies
Oil companies are putting the blame for their apparent slow response in dealing with September's fuel crisis squarely on the shoulders of the fuel protesters.

Appearing in front of MPs from the Commons Trade and Industry Committee, oil bosses said that intimidation and violence was at such a level that they felt unable to take risks with driver safety until the police had dealt with the situation.

Wherever we felt we could continue operations safely we did so

Shell UK
Fuel protesters, who vented their anger over high fuel duty last month by blockading fuel depots, bringing the nation to a temporary standstill, insist that their pickets were peaceful.

Malcolm Brinded, the chairman of Shell UK and also a member of the government's fuel task force, told MPs that reports of violence were not fabricated and that in total 180 incidents had been reported during the crisis.

Police assistance

I think we should be able to react much faster to any [new] situation

He told the committee: "Wherever we felt we could continue operations safely we did so, but we were looking for sufficient police to clear the blockades and where necessary police vehicles to escort tankers to the site and to assist during the unloading."

Detailing incidents, he said there were 10 cases of objects being thrown at tankers, including broken windscreens, as well as 20 cases of tankers have to take "evasive" maneuvers and perform emergency stops.

Verbal abuse

Defending the industry, he said: "It was in the light of that type of incident that we were very cautious."

Other intimidation, he said, had been verbal but highly effective and included threats of drivers' homes being burnt down and their picture being placed on the internet as a paedophile, "so we should be careful not to label these demonstrations as peaceful".

Looking to the approaching 60-day deadline that the People's Fuel Lobby has imposed on the government before it takes up fresh demonstrations, Gary Jones of Total said the oil companies would respond more quickly should there be a next time.

Quick response

He told MPs: "I think we should be able to react much faster to any situation."

And he said that much of the disruption had been caused by panic buying as much as by the protesters' blockades.

He pointed out that there was more capacity to store petrol in the nation's 28 million cars than in garage forecourts.

On the issue of using soldiers to drive tankers during a future blockade, none of the oilmen present believed such a measure would take place in the early stages of a protest.

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See also:

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Troops trained to beat blockades
31 Oct 00 | UK Politics
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05 Oct 00 | Conservatives
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