Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude was at the centre of a political storm last night for suggesting the public should fill up jerry cans ahead of the threatened tanker drivers’ strike.
His comments were made before Diane Hill, 46, from York, suffered 40 per cent burns to her body after vapours ignited as she decanted petrol in her kitchen, setting fire to her clothing.
Labour MPs called for the resignation of Mr Maude, who has faced a barrage of criticism from fire safety experts since advising motorists to store jerry cans of fuel in their garages.
The Labour MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, claimed the current panic-buying of fuel is a direct result of Mr Maude’s “rash and foolish” comments which had endangered Ms Hill’s life.
He said: “Francis Maude should now be considering the consequences of his actions and do the decent thing and resign.”
The Labour MP for Hull East, Karl Turner, also urged Mr Maude to stand down if his “politicking and unnecessary panic” led to Ms Hill’s injuries.
Last night Ms Hill, who has two adult daughters, Lauren and Grace, was being treated at a specialist burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield. Her condition was described as “serious but stable”.
Firefighters were called to her semi-detached home in the Acomb district of York at 6pm on Thursday. A flame from a gas cooker is thought to have ignited the vapour as she transferred fuel from a container into a glass jug after one of her daughters had asked for some petrol.
Neighbours told how they thought the family were having a barbecue after spotting a thick plume of smoke.
Margo Johnston, 86, said: “I’m not sure why she was decanting petrol. I know there’s been a lot of panic about running out. People rely so much on their cars that they panic and cannot imagine being without petrol.”
York Council’s Labour leader, Coun James Alexander, has written to Mr Maude calling on him to retract his “hugely irresponsible” comments, and added: “The Minister must accept that while his comments cannot be directly linked to this incident, they could very easily have contributed to it or to the potential for other similar incidents to happen elsewhere in the country.”
As fuel sales soared this week, with figures showing petrol sales up by almost 172 per cent on Thursday, motoring groups also reported increased call-outs by motorists who had run out because of shortages brought about by panic-buying.
Unite, which represents 2,000 fuel tanker drivers, yesterday ruled out the threat of strikes over Easter but stressed it retained the right to call industrial action if talks broke down.
Prime Minister David Cameron said his heart went out to Ms Hill after learning of her injuries.
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman was adamant Mr Maude would not be resigning, and played down his suggestions for storing fuel at home. She added: “The advice is that motorists should look to top up their cars with fuel whenever they can, but there is no need to queue at petrol stations.”
The AA warned, however, that panicked drivers are taking “stupid and very dangerous” actions after an elderly woman was seen using a petrol pump to fill jam jars in Macclesfield in Cheshire. Another man was seen filling washing-up liquid bottles with fuel.
In a leaked email to the Department of Energy, the UK Petroleum Industry Association is reported to have described the fuel crisis as “self-inflicted insanity”.
Fuel panic continues: Page 5; Comment: Page 16.