| 4.1°C Dublin

Video: Minister on brink as woman burnt in petrol fire

A senior British cabinet minister who urged drivers to stock fuel in jerry cans faced calls to resign last night after a mother of two children set herself alight as she decanted petrol in her kitchen.

Diane Hill (46) suffered 40pc burns when she apparently tried to pour petrol from a can into a jug to refuel her daughter's car. Ms Hill's gas cooker was on at the time and the petrol caught fire.

David Cameron described the incident as "desperately sad" but Labour rounded on Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, and suggested that his advice to keep a stock of fuel in a jerry can -- in breach of fire guidelines -- may have inadvertently led to the accident.

The mass panic-buying of petrol instigated by the government went on yesterday -- despite no strike having been called by tanker drivers. People were paying a "very, very heavy prices" for ministers' "political intervention", the shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, claimed.

"I do think that political games were played. I think the prime minister woke up on Monday morning and thought, 'I've got the worst weekend I've had in government, [so] why don't I try to divert attention?'

"So suddenly, out of the blue, we had government ministers talking up a strike which wasn't even called."

Last night the UK Department of Health had to address fears that ambulances were running short of fuel. It said in a statement that ambulances had "well-stocked alternative fuel supplies".

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) urged ministers to make a public safety announcement on the dangers of petrol in the home.

Labour MP John Mann went further and called for Mr Maude to quit. "This is precisely what the fire brigade warned against and (it) is a direct result of Francis Maude's rash and foolish reaction," Mr Mann said. "(He) should . . . do the decent thing and resign."

'Insanity'

The Cabinet Office and No 10 ruled out Mr Maude's resignation but a Downing Street official privately admitted its message on the shortage threat got "out of control".

Mr Cameron yesterday chaired his second Cobra crisis meeting in three days, also attended by Mr Maude.

In a leaked letter to the Department of Energy, the UK Petroleum Industry Association described the fuel rush as "self-inflicted insanity".

It also emerged that EU rules limiting the number of hours that fuel hauliers can work has been extended in an attempt to restock petrol stations.

After the meeting, Mr Cameron said that he welcomed the announcement by Unite not to call strikes of petrol tanker drivers before Easter. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent