Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence


Annex 2

Report on Fuel Tanker Drivers Experience of Fuel blockades

INCIDENTS REPORTED TO THE T&G

INTRODUCTION

  The T&G supports the right of peaceful demonstrations as it sees this form of protest as a very important element of a healthy democracy. The recent fuel crisis however, has highlighted a number of issues which focuses on the lack of normal industrial protocol and procedures during the blockades.

  Our experience as trade unionists in similar protests, especially during the years of Tory governments, has been immediate and heavy policing to ensure supplies or services are delivered; vilification by some employers of our members for exercising their lawful rights and condemnation by the politicians for our actions.

  The fuel crisis however, saw policing with a touch so light it was almost non-existent, employers so compliant they not only remained silent but allowed protesters to meet on their premises and the response from the Leader of the Tory party to declare the protesters as "fine upstanding citizens". All of this added to the genial portrayal of the blockades by some parts of the media, that this was an affable sociable protest.

  Our tanker drivers experience was very different.

  They were subject to a wide range of intimidatory tactics by protesters and other members of the public in trying to maintain an essential fuel supply. At times they were left isolated by some employers who offered little or no support and some were left to run the gauntlet of blockades without any protection.

  The report which follows, catalogues some of those incidents which our members reported during that period. All the incidents can be verified.

INTIMIDATION

Grangemouth Refinery

  A number of drivers reported members of the public spitting and giving verbal abuse to tanker drivers arriving at station forecourts.

  A number of drivers reported verbal abuse and veiled threats such as "We know where you live" from protesters who shouted to tanker drivers living and working in a close-knit community.

  Attempts made to distract drivers by throwing wooden and paper missiles at the tankers.

  In the meeting at Grangemouth with T&G officers and drivers, a number expressed their fears, particularly about being seen to go against the wishes of the local community who supported the blockade.

    "It only takes one lunatic to drop a brick off a flyover and my son's without a father"

    "My wife and bairns are sitting there in the house and wondering, when I'm down here, right, and I cannot protect them" (Recorded by BBC and broadcast on Nine O'Clock News 14 September 2000)

  Driver A reported being struck by a raw egg at a filling station after the blockade was called off on the morning of Thursday 14 September.

Phillips Refinery, Seal Sands

  A number of tanker drivers reported that they had been told by protesters that their registration numbers had been taken. There were also threats of possible bricks thrown from motorway bridges in the future if they continued to make deliveries.

  A number of drivers from Imperial tankers reported that protesters had threatened that they would be followed on their journeys.

Stanlow Oil Refinery

  Driver B reported a cone thrown at tanker windscreen.

  A number of drivers were videoed by protesters and threatened that their pictures would be downloaded onto the internet. (Filmed by TV news crew)

  Drivers were also told by protesters, "We may not get you this time but we'll get you next time you're on the motorway".

  A number of drivers reported being physically threatened by protesters.

  Driver C returning empty to the depot, had a protester jump onto his bumper. Whilst the driver claims to have been driving perfectly normally, the protester has lodged a complaint with the police who have threatened to charge him with dangerous driving. The matter now rests with solicitors but four weeks have elapsed and the driver has still not been interviewed by the police.

Trafford Park

  Driver D reported a brick thrown through his windscreen at the Sainsbury's roundabout Ellesmere Port.

  Driver E reported a brick thrown through the windscreen on Oil Sites Road Ellesmere Port.

Highway Incidents

  A number of drivers reported people on motorbikes gesturing and swerving in front of tankers.

  A tanker driver was verbally abused and spat upon in an M6 service station.

  Driver F was forced off the road by a haulage contractor and the police are currently investigating the reported incident.

   One Shell driver who did not wish to be named, said he and his colleagues did not want to leave the site for fear of being threatened. He said "We are carrying 30,000 litres of fuel in these tankers and there is no way we are going to take any chances. It is not just the protest line here, it is also out on the road. Drivers have been receiving abuse, gestures and threats when making deliveries from other drivers on the road". The driver added "We are not carrying tomatoes, we are carrying 30,000 litres of fuel and if people are cutting us up on the motorway then it is too dangerous for us to drive out. We have some sympathy for this protest but really it is nothing to do with us". (P.A. Friday 8/9/00)

Oil Depots

  A T&G Officer had to drive through 300 protesters with no police protection. His car was rocked by the crowd and they put their heads through his open window and delivered a barrage of verbal abuse.

LACK OF POLICE ACTION

Motorway blockades

  A convoy of lorries driving slowly along the M62 on the Manchester to Leeds section at 12.30 pm Thursday 14/9/00 were successfully slowing and blocking traffic. A T&G officer reports the lorries were three abreast with HGVs in the outside lane. Some lorries had stopped and drivers were walking along the motorway. The officer estimates a five mile tail back and police were reported as simply talking to the drivers without making any apparent attempts to get them moving.

Refineries and Oil Depots

  Despite only essential deliveries being allowed by the blockades from some terminals, it was reported to us that the police took a very conciliatory line with the protesters during the blockades.

  Reports from one refinery that on the evening of Tuesday 12 September a meeting was called of drivers stewards, management and the police officer in charge of the operation to organise essential supplies identified on the DTI list. The steward perceived a change of policy and management were now under pressure to make the deliveries. The police officer reported that he had agreement from the protesters for the DTI deliveries to be made. It was agreed that two men would be in each truck including a BP Manager in one and a Tankfreight Manager in another. However, it became apparent that agreement had not been reached, as the degree of abuse and intimidation expressed to all the drivers was so extreme, that both managers agreed that drivers could not and should not be subjected to further appalling behaviour.

OIL COMPANY ACQUIESCENCE

Ipswich Oil Terminal

  It was reported that whilst tanker drivers were allowed to leave the terminal with essential fuel supplies, the terminal operators did not request the police to remove the blockade or those involved in it. This experience featured in a number of reports from refineries and depots.

Teesside

  Access land to Teesside oil sites is owned by the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority which we believe allowed access to the protesters.

Trafford Park

  Esso had not given any of their drivers any of the normal documentation which is required to carry out their day to day deliveries. This documentation is normally received well in advance of deliveries and we can only conclude that the company was complicit in supporting the protesters blockades.

Cardiff

  Tankfreight drivers who are contracted to BP were advised by their employer on Monday 10 September to take two/three days off and made no effort, either with or without police assistance to make deliveries.

Stanlow

  When protesters first appeared at Stanlow our members informed their management (P&O Tankfreight) that they would continue to work normally if they had police escorts but this facility was not afforded to them.

Jarrow

  A driver from Athena Express who was involved in blockading a Shell site was quoted as saying "We could quite easily have been moved from Jarrow if Shell had said we want all these people off our land. Last time they didn't and I don't know why". Len Johnson Athena Express quoted in Commercial Motor 12-18 October 2000.

EXISTING LEGISLATION

  It appears that there were a number of breaches of the law, both civil and criminal, throughout the protest where no action was taken by any party including the police, which needs an explanation.

  The offences of obstruction of the highway and possibly also public nuisance were committed when lorries blocked the motorways, yet the police failed to take action against these offences. Likewise, many of the demonstrations at the fuel depots would have involved breaches of the Public Order Acts. Had the protesters resisted the attempts of the police to move them on, they would also have committed the offence of obstructing the police. We have listed evidence above where protesters physically stopped drivers and intimidated them about future deliveries which could have been grounds for charges of assault or breaches of the peace, again no action from the police.

  Oil companies were also reluctant to take out writs for inducing breach of contract or interference of contract or indeed conspiracy to do either. Whilst injunctions against individuals might not have been effective in stopping the blockades, there was no attempt to obtain injunctions against the self-styled leaders or those organisations supporting them. Similarly there were no threats of actions for damages against owner drivers whose lorries might then have been at risk of being seized. All this contrasts dramatically with the legal action which is often taken against union members in a balloted dispute. It is interesting to note that the threat of legal action in Norway in similar blockades, was a major factor in bringing a speedy end to similar protests.

October 2000


 
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