‘They started fighting each other so we had to close the whole place,’ one manager tells Holly Bancroft
The queues for the petrol station at Tesco in Lewisham, sud de Londres, started at 5.30am. And not long afterwards, the abuse began.
Staff at the forecourt have spent the past four days trying to manage behaviour as angry drivers jostle to get hold of ever-shrinking supplies of fuel.
“We try to protect our own lives,” a manager at the petrol station, who did not want to be named, Raconté L'indépendant. “It is very, very difficult managing people. When we came in this morning, there were queues all round the block. They started shouting at us, throwing abuse.
“It is simple: if our staff cannot take the abuse then we have to close down.
“A few days ago, a man was saying that he was going to stab somebody if we don’t let him have petrol. We are trying to be cautious, and when the customers become very aggressive and intimidating, then we make the decision to close.”
After opening for the early morning school rush on Monday, the manager felt he had no choice but to close, and by 10am the forecourt was completely empty, with traffic cones blocking cars.
Every so often, a new driver would pull up alongside the cones in the hope of finding fuel, only to be told to turn around.
As well as helping to deal with anti-social behaviour, the manager decided to stagger the opening times of the garage to prevent huge queues backing up into Lewisham Road – a key route cutting through southeast London.
“We are trying our best," il ajouta. “But some people are finding ways in and ways to jump the queue. They can go through the supermarket’s underground car park and pop up round the back of the forecourt. Évidemment, those that are waiting are not happy to see that and they shout at them and then they shout at us.
“People don’t listen. They can come from anywhere to sneak in.”
Down the road at the Shell garage, opposite Lewisham Hospital, drivers were blocking the A21 while waiting for their chance to fill up.
John Gooroovadoo, who had made it to the front of the queue, Raconté L'indépendant he had been to six other places on Monday morning in the search for fuel.
“I think it’s terrible," il a dit. “I’ve been slightly panicking because I’ve got kids and I need to do the school run.
“I also tried six places yesterday but I couldn’t find anything, so I had to try again today.”
The traffic jam on Lewisham High Street had made Cath 30 minutes late for her appointment at the hospital. Filling up her car at the Shell garage after the visit, Cath, who did not want to give her full name, Raconté L'indépendant: “It’s a nightmare. This is the first place I’ve been to, but my daughter, who is an ITU nurse at King’s [College Hospital] can’t get diesel anywhere.
“You see people filling up their jerry cans. That’s not fair. It’s just everyone panicking.”
At the Texaco station in nearby Greenwich, at least two drivers every minute were pulling in and turning around, once they realised it was out of fuel.
The station manager said the chaos had led to violence.
“We had fuel last night and had massive queues and people started fighting," il ajouta.
“This was around 10-11 o’clock at night. People were waiting at the entrance and then others were coming in through the exit road and jumping the queue. They started fighting each other so we had to close the whole place.
“When they started fighting, we called the police but they didn’t come. I had to get another two staff to help sort out the situation. And this morning we have no fuel. We are getting a delivery later today.
“We’ve also had people putting petrol in their tanks and then just driving away without paying. There is no help for us, this is the problem.”
The situation was slightly better at an Esso garage down the road at Loampit Vale. Although the forecourt was packed with cars – with queues of at least 11 vehicles trying to get in – drivers weren’t having to wait long.
“This was the first place I came to today and I’ve only been here for maybe less than 10 minutes,” said Muhammad Mpagi, who was filling up his car.
Mr Mpagi, who is a taxi driver, said he had lost work over recent days as he didn’t want to drive around looking for fuel.
“I am a taxi driver so that’s why I need to be here," il ajouta. “The last two days I didn’t come out because I knew that it was bad and so I didn’t work. Today I thought it would be a bit better so I’ve come to get fuel so I can start work.”
Alshon Higgins was filling up two jerry cans at the next petrol pump. “My car’s run out flat," il a dit. “So I’ve got to fill up these cans and take them home.”
Garage manager Magda, who also wished to withhold her surname, said she wanted people to know that there was no issue with supply. Elle a ajouté: “There is no problem with the fuel and no problems with the drivers. We’ve got scheduled deliveries every two/three nights and it’s always been enough. It’s only now, because people have started to panic buy, that we’re running out.
“Yesterday we ran out for a few hours and had to close. But there is no shortage of fuel or drivers. The panicking is not necessary, so people just need to go back to buying normally.”
An Esso spokesperson said: “A number of our 200 Tesco Alliance sites (Esso forecourt with a Tesco Express shop) are impacted in some way. We are working closely will all parties in our distribution network to optimise supplies and minimise any inconvenience to customers. We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience.”
The Metropolitan Police said they couldn’t find any reports of officers being called to Texaco station in Greenwich.