Report on Fuel Tanker Drivers Experience
of Fuel blockades
INCIDENTS REPORTED TO THE T&G
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.
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
A number of drivers from Imperial tankers reported
that protesters had threatened that they would be followed on
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
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
Access land to Teesside oil sites is owned by
the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority which we believe allowed
access to the protesters.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.