Quit calls in fuel can row

Motorists queue at a petrol station
Motorists queue at a petrol station
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A GOVERNMENT minister who suggested filling up jerry cans with fuel because of a threatened tanker drivers’ strike was facing growing calls to resign after a woman was severely burned while transferring petrol between canisters in her kitchen.

Diane Hill, 46, from York, was recovering in hospital today 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 Government last night changed its advice to motorists after Unite, the union representing 2,000 fuel tanker drivers, ruled out the threat of strikes over Easter.

After days of urging motorists to fill up if their tanks dropped below two-thirds full, the Department for Energy and Climate Change said there was no need to queue on petrol forecourts. It said: “There is no urgency to top up your tank, a strike will not happen over Easter.”

But with Unite stressing it retained the right to call industrial action if talks, expected to start next week, break down, No 10 stressed the threat was not over.

“It remains vital we take the necessary steps to keep the country safe in case there is a strike,” a spokesman said.

The move followed more panic-buying at garages across the country yesterday and the revelation that petrol sales increased by almost 172 per cent on Thursday while sales of diesel were up by almost 77 per cent.

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.

He said: “This is precisely what the fire brigade warned against and the 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 put in danger.”