Petrol station staff face violence and abuse amid fuel shortages
Sally Patterson and Estelle Nilsson-Julien
- Credit: Estelle Nilsson
A north London petrol station owner has condemned the violent and threatening behaviour her staff are facing from angry drivers desperate to get fuel.
A lack of HGV drivers and panic-buying has led to shortages at the pumps. Gas stations have had to turn away customers when they reach the front of long queues for fuel.
Reports of arguments and brawls on forecourts across the country have surfaced amid the chaos. On Sunday (September 26) a man was arrested on suspicion of assault at a Haverstock Hill petrol station.
According to fuel workers the abuse many staff face on a daily basis goes unreported.
The petrol station owner told the Ham&High: “When we realised how serious the fuel situation was and our supply was running out, I said to my staff ‘there’s going to be violence’.
“On Thursday and Friday there were already a few incidents, but the aggression and frustration intensified over the weekend.”
She said the station started capping the amount of fuel drivers could buy, but customers argued that they needed more and would fill up jerry cans with extra supply.
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“We knew it was going to kick off when we asked them to stop and be considerate of others,” she said. “90% of the time, it’s all mouth – swearing, threats of violence, but it can get physical.”
As the garage’s petrol supply ran low, staff were told to “expect to be sworn at and called names”.
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“I knew it was going to get personal and nasty, with people saying racist stuff, we’ve seen it before,” she said.
“Because of the amount of carnage, we had more staff on site than usual, so I told them to walk away and swap with another worker if things got heated.”
The owner stressed that petrol station workers have been working flat-out since the end of last week dealing with the traffic mayhem, working long shifts before heading home for a short rest.
One worker had even resorted to sleeping in his car, as he said it was not worth bracing the traffic to try to get home.
“We don’t get paid enough for this,” the owner said.
“We’re sleep-deprived, haven’t seen our families in days, and trying our hardest to make sure people can get home safe and ambulances don’t run out of petrol.
“You’re out there by yourself in the dark, in all weather, and sometimes you wonder if it’s even worth it.
“People are putting their lives at risk.”
Many north London drivers struggled to refuel over the past week, with queues blocking roads in Crouch End, Hampstead and Highgate.
Muswell Hill resident Adam Hartley said he tried to fill up his car at five different stations, with no success.
He told the Ham&High: "It's madness, I've driven around London and nowhere has fuel. I think it's a result of Brexit and people panic-buying.
"I even heard a woman was putting petrol into a Tesco bag for life.”
Ben, who works for a local cleaning company, said: "We are struggling to get all our vans out as lots of them are petrol and can’t fill up. We are having to drive old diesel ones that aren’t usually in use."
Uber Eats driver Lee told the Ham&High: "They usually have petrol canisters but not at the moment, so I’m having to come here.
"I went to Belsize Park, Kilburn and Kentish Town petrol stations before coming here. It’s disrupting my day."
Queuing at Finchley Road's BP, van driver Allan said: "I've been to two petrol stations this morning. I went to the station near The Wellington hospital in St John’s Wood but it was sold out.
"I then tried the one in Kentish Town which people were queueing at even though it was closed."
Crouch End writer and campaigner David Winskill reported queues of traffic stretching from the Co-op garage on Tottenham Lane to the Clocktower in Crouch End.
Boris Johnson said on Tuesday the situation on forecourts is “stabilising”, and urged motorists to go about their business in the normal way.
His appeal came as Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of reducing the country to “chaos” through its failure to deal with the fuel crisis.
Mr Johnson said the government was putting in place measures to ensure the entire supply chain could cope in the run-up to Christmas.
The government announced it would be issuing 5,000 temporary visas to foreign lorry drivers to alleviate the shortages which led to the crisis, and the army has been put on standby to help with deliveries.