Protests at the Petrol Pumps

May 11, 2022

Written by: EdgePetrol team

5 min

Protests at the Petrol Pumps

by Larry Cohen

General Counsel - Edge Petrol Limited

In recent weeks various groups, most of which are off-shoots of Extinction Rebellion, have been obstructing oil terminals. 

Their objective is to stop petrol stations being re-supplied and have more recently attacked and vandalised fuel pumps to prevent petrol stations from operating. A number of these people have been arrested and charged with criminal damage, unlawful trespass and other charges.

Sadly, that is not the end of the story. Stations have suffered damage to their equipment. Customers have been lost because they cannot resupply or because there is no access to working pumps.

This has led many retailers to wonder what to do if there is an incident that impacts their stations.

The first thing to know is that whilst people have a right to peaceful protest, there is no right to do any of the following:

  • Cause physical damage to property
  • Cause a 3rd party to breach contractual relations
  • Cause trespass leading to damage

Secondly, it is vital to make sure that the protestor’s identity is established. That information can usually be obtained from the police and sometimes the press. In the case of trespassers, they also need to be asked to leave the premises, and if they do not do so, the trespass becomes unlawful. 

The request to leave the premises should be polite, recorded and documented. It goes without saying to not use violence and it is highly recommended that physical contact is avoided. For instance, a protester who has glued him or herself to a fuel pump or the road should not be forcibly moved. It is the job of the police to deal with that aspect.

Once the protestors have been removed, or moved on, the damage can be assessed.  The amount of physical damage can be computed, and the losses from not re-supplying the tanks and or the pumps being out of action can be calculated against the expected outturn for the affected days using data platforms like EdgePetrol.

Once you have their details and have considered the losses, you should write to any protesters who directly affected your business in any one of the above ways. You can use evidence from police or any that you gathered yourselves.

You should then sue for one or more of damage to property, trespass and unlawful interference with contractual relations. To sue for unlawful interference with contractual relations, you will have to show that you had a contract for the re-supply of your fuel tanks which was not honoured at the time for delivery. 

Next, commence proceedings for damages in the local County Court. Proceedings for less than £100,000 cannot be started in the High Court, and higher level financial claims can be heard in the County Court.

However, to avoid any case becoming a cause celebre it would be better to have only one or two defendants and accuse them of conspiring with others. If they are found liable, they can be responsible for offsetting their liability at least in part onto their co-conspirators.

Let the proceedings take their time, and in the months following the event, the protestors who caused the damage will have a long term issue hanging over them, and one which could potentially bankrupt each of them. That is not a good place to be in today’s society.

Most of the cases should result in summary judgement on the basis of no arguable defence. The one exception, unless a conspiracy is alleged, is to property damage, where a defendant may say that he or she only damaged one pump. That may result in more limited damages.

An alternative route to compensation may be business interruption insurance for those who have it. Each policy is different, but if you have it, review the terms and if appropriate, make a claim. You may not be able to both make a claim and sue a protestor, because the insurer, on accepting the claim, takes over the rights of the insured in a process called subrogation. 

If you are able to go down the insured route, then EdgePetrol should provide excellent information in relation the loss suffered and which can be claimed, and the means to prove that loss.

It is a troubling issue, but claiming is retribution, and the financial consequences on the protestors may be severe. The cost in the County Court is modest; especially if summary judgement is available.

Whatever your opinion is on the protestors' cause, these steps should help you to protect your financial interests in your business.

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