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AA warns of record high for petrol prices

By Claire McNeilly

Petrol prices are set to soar to record levels within days, motorists have been warned.

The AA said that unleaded fuel could soon surge to over £1.20 a litre — even though the price of oil is little more than half the level it reached at its peak.

Angry motoring groups are urging Chancellor Alistair Darling to delay a planned 3p hike in petrol duty due to come in on April 1.

Drivers also want to know why unleaded — which peaked at over £1.20 in Northern Ireland in July 2008 — is costing so much.

Northern Ireland’s Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said consumers would no doubt be feeling cheated by fuel retailers.

“It’s a complete disgrace,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“Crude oil has gone up this year, but nothing like the rise in petrol prices, so consumers are confused as to what is happening.

“When the price of oil goes up fuel prices follow suit but when the cost of oil comes down there seems to be very little movement.

“Motorists quite rightly feel that this is commercial mugging and the oil companies can no longer hide behind not giving us an explanation.”

Yesterday, the average petrol price across the UK was 116.1p for a litre of unleaded and 116.9p for diesel, according to |Petrolprices.com.

However, in Northern Ireland, where fuel consistently costs more, petrol was priced at as much as 119.1p at some forecourts, while diesel drivers were paying up to 123.9p a litre.

AA president Edmund King said it was a tough time for motorists everywhere — especially in Ulster.

“We are barely out of recession, yet petrol prices threaten to rise to record prices seen during the boom of 2008 — shortly before the collapse into recession,” he said.

“If families, drivers on fixed incomes and those on low pay were unable to cope with record prices then, they are even less likely now.

“In Northern Ireland, which appears to be harder hit than elsewhere in the UK, motorists should shop around for the cheapest fuel.”

Even if the 3p increase is withdrawn by the Government, the price paid on average by drivers could soon hit £1.20 a litre (£5.41 a gallon) according to the industry watchdog.

This would overtake the previous UK average high of £1.19 of July 2008.

When prices peaked in the dark old days during the summer of 2008, they were blamed on the increasing cost of crude oil, which hit a staggering $147 a barrel.

But, even though crude is now at $78 a barrel there are over 250 filling stations across the UK already charging over £1.20 a litre for both petrol and diesel.

AA research found an average family with two cars is paying £52 a month more to fill up now than a year ago.

The watchdog said the price increases were caused by the rise in the price of wholesale gasoline since the end of January.

It added that market speculators were mostly to blame, along with a shortage of supply.

The weak pound has also forced up prices because petrol is bought in dollars.

The Road Haulage Association has claimed spiralling pump prices were threatening to push hundreds of firms to the wall.

RHA chief executive Geoff Dunning said: “Our members will simply not take any more price hikes.”

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