‘I was empty, I’m not panic-buying’: in the petrol queue on the North Circular

A kilometre of one of the UK’s most congested roads was on Sunday taking on a new, unwanted role: the queue for a BP garage still managing to sell petrol.

Julian Dunbar estimated he had waited an hour and a half on the inside lane of the A406 North Circular in South Chingford, east London, to finally be able to fill up. “The petrol light is on, I’m almost empty,” he said. “It’s frustrating because not everyone here needs to fill up. We’re here because we need to for the week, not because we are panic-buying.”

Dunbar, who works in property management, was with his young daughter. “We’ve just been to the supermarket to do the weekly shop and of course there’s no pasta. Are we going back to how it was at the start of the pandemic? If everyone just had a bit of social responsibility for themselves then this wouldn’t be an issue.”

Most people the Guardian talked to did not quite know who to blame. “I don’t know if it is the supply chain not being managed properly? Brexit? I get annoyed,” said Dunbar. “We are a very wealthy nation, we shouldn’t be in this position.”

The BP garage was one of the few locally that were still open. Nearby garages at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons were all closed to petrol buyers.

The queue, causing slow-moving traffic in the other lanes for as far as the eye could see, was bringing out the worst in some drivers. “There has been some terrible behaviour,” said Heena Patel, a cost manager who had waited for an hour. “There are quite a few people trying to push in and using the excuse that they want to go to Costco … but they’re not. It’s selfish.”

She was relieved she finally had some petrol in the car. “I was actually empty, I’m not panic-buying. I need to get petrol because I’ve got to take my dad who’s 82 to the hospital during the week.”

Gjenarin Shkambi, a builder from Romford, had potentially lost work because of his hour queueing. He had been on his way to price a job but was now heading home.

“I need petrol because I’ve got to drive 200 miles tomorrow for a job,” he said. “I need to go to work. I get annoyed but what can you do? You’ve got to get on with it. It is a nightmare. I can’t price the job tomorrow because it’s the opposite direction to where I’m working, it’s a joke.”

Ash Iko, a financial adviser, was sanguine. “It’s frustrating but there’s no choice. I was just driving by and saw the queue so I thought I should get some petrol. It is worrying. Nobody said this was going to happen. I do drive a lot.”

Most people in the queue took the waiting in their stride. Aside from pushing in, the worst behaviour seen by the Guardian was two drivers reversing into the garage using its exit road.

Elsewhere there were reports of violence, with a number of clips of forecourt fights doing the rounds on social media.

Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, tweeted his experience on Saturday afternoon. “I’m now officially in post-Brexit wild west. No HGV drivers, no petrol: queued most of the morning for petrol. Got near the front and they said none left. Man behind me was furious and started punching the guard. Became a melee of 8-10 men on the ground, punching and kicking.”

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