Fuel panic: Francis Maude may pay dearly for 'rash and foolish' jerry can advice
A Government minister who suggested filling up jerry cans with fuel because of a threatened tanker drivers’ strike faced growing calls to resign today after a woman was severely burned while transferring petrol between canisters in her kitchen.
Diane Hill, 46, from York, was recovering in hospital last night with 40 per cent burns after vapours ignited as she decanted petrol from one container to another, setting fire to her clothing.
Labour MPs called for the resignation of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who has faced a barrage or criticism from fire experts since advising motorists earlier this week to store jerry cans of fuel in their garages.
The union representing 2,000 fuel tanker drivers ruled out the threat of strikes over Easter and said it wanted to focus on peace talks.
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But it didn’t stop the huge queues forming across the West Country yesterday, with a string of petrol stations having to close down after running out of supplies. They included the Sainsbury’s near junction 21 of the M5 in Worle, Weston-super-Mare, where huge queues of bemused and angry drivers formed.
There were reports of tempers flaring and police having to be called to several stations as well. In Cheltenham, there were reports of frustrated drivers driving the wrong way along a road to steal a march on people queuing in Up Hatherly.
The union Unite said it retained the right to call industrial action if talks, expected to start next week, break down.
Prime Minister David Cameron said his heart went out to the woman who was burnt, describing it as a “desperate” incident.
Speaking at 10 Downing Street shortly after he chaired another meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency contingencies committee, Mr Cameron welcomed Unite’s decision and called on the union to engage constructively in talks expected to start next week at conciliation service Acas.
Firefighter Lee Smith confirmed that the container Ms Hill was decanting from was a green jerry can, adding: “It was a normal tea-time activity, cooking a meal, and the person (Ms Hill) was decanting from a petrol container into a glass jug.
"The vapour from the petrol was then ignited in the kitchen area. This resulted in spillage of the petrol and further flames which engulfed the person.”
John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, said Mr Maude should do the “decent thing” and resign, saying of the accident: “This is precisely what the fire brigade warned against and the current panic is a direct result of Francis Maude’s rash and foolish reaction to negative press on pasties and number 10 dinners, we are now in a position where a woman’s life has been placed in danger.
"Francis Maude should now be considering the consequences of his actions and do the decent thing and resign.”
There were also fears last night that the hysteria would damage the traditional Easter getaway, with many businesses connected to tourism fearing people would choose to stay at home.
Tourism bosses in the South West called for the Government to send in troops to quell widespread fuel panic amid fears the Easter weekend may become a washout. They claimed the strike threat may cost the tourism industry more than £20 million.