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FEARS of a national petrol shortage soared last night after the owner of one of Britain's biggest refineries went bust.
The gates to Coryton refinery in Essex were locked as Swiss giant Petroplus filed for insolvency.
Unions said there were just "days" to save the 1,000 staff.
All supplies of petrol were stopped as administrators Price-waterhouseCoopers tried to find a buyer for the site and the fuel sitting in storage there.
Sources last night claimed HM Revenue & Customs was holding up the supply of petrol by demanding duty in advance. But PwC denied this.
Coryton supplies 20 per cent of forecourts across London and the South East.
Last night there were rumours that petrol pumps in nearby Southend-on-Sea had run dry.
Motoring experts warned petrol and diesel prices could rise by up to 3p per litre by the end of the week. Brian Madderson of the RMI Petrol Retailers Association said: "There's no doubt about it."
Shell sent ten tankers from Coryton to the Midlands for supplies. Texaco moved its fleet of tankers to another depot in Kent.
One driver told The Sun: "This will bring the South to a standstill. We went in last night to load up and the gates were locked.
"I haven't seen this since the fuel blockade 12 years ago."
Coryton was sold by BP to Petroplus in 2007 for £750million.
Petroplus also owns a storage facility in Teesside and a lab in Swansea. It has been in trouble since banks withdrew a $1billion credit line after Christmas, making it unable to buy crude.
Energy minister Charles Hendry said: "We will engage fully with the administrators. We are keen to secure a sustainable future for the refinery operations."
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