Lorry drivers stranded 'like Robinson Crusoe' brace for Christmas in a queue

22 December 2020, 15:55 | Updated: 22 December 2020, 17:39

At least 1,500 lorry drivers are currently stuck in Kent.
At least 1,500 lorry drivers are currently stuck in Kent. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Lorry drivers stuck in Kent say they are facing a lack of food, toilet and washing facilities, as they face the prospect of spending Christmas in the cab of their trucks, away from their families.

At least 2,000 lorries are currently stranded after France closed their border on Sunday to entries from the UK, over fears of the new variant of Covid-19.

Operation Stack has been implemented, with lorries queuing down the M20, while others have been redirected to a lorry park at Manston.

Lorry driver Michael Lapik told LBC he hopes to be home in time for Christmas: “I feel bad because I don’t know when I will be home... My family are waiting for me in Poland."

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Meanwhile, Lukas Grau, from the Czech Republic, said he felt “very bad” and his wife had told him his children were missing him.

“I want to go home but I am here. It is not good for me and my family. I have been here five days in England,” he told LBC.

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On the other side of the Channel, Scottish lorry driver Paul King is in France ferrying unaccompanied loads of meat and fish back and forth to customers.

He told LBC his colleagues in Kent are “very, very grumpy”.

“They want to be home to be with their families and now they’re stuck,” he added.

Although the EU Commission have called on member states to lift blanket UK travel bans to "avoid supply chain disruptions", an agreement between the UK and France has yet to be reached on reopening the border.

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There have been complaints that there is not enough food and facilities available for drivers stuck in the UK, with all pubs and restaurants closed due to Kent’s Tier 4 status.

Ronald Schroeder, 52, from Hamburg, Germany, who was turned back from Dover on Sunday night, said the "social situation" for drivers is worsening due to a lack of toilet and washing facilities.

He said: "I am now staying in a hotel, but in front of the hotel there are thousands of people without any rooms waiting to come over the Channel crossing.

"I feel a little bit like Robinson Crusoe on an island."

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Managing director of the Road Haulage Association, Rod McKenzie, said “morale is very poor”.

"Yesterday Kent County Council offered each of them one cereal bar, which is a pretty poor effort, I think in terms of maintaining their morale, and their spirits."

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Mr McKenzie explained that toilet facilities are a "big issue", with concerns over health and cleanliness.

He added: "We are not treating them well as a country, we are not treating lorry drivers well in these very difficult conditions that they are in at the moment."

The Department for Transport told LBC there are 77 toilets and 66 urinals at Manston, with each driver given one 2L bottle of water when they arrive and food available on site.

One Sikh charity from Slough says Kent Police asked them to deliver meals to the stranded drivers.

Ravinder Singh, founder of Khalsa Aid, told LBC: "We offered the police our assistance in water, food, snacks and this morning they asked for 800 hot meals for the drivers who are stranded.

“There is a big shortage of food supplies for their suppliers, so they asked us for help and we are very happy to do so."

Speaking as he loaded up their van, Mr Singh said Khalsa Aid are working with a local Sikh temple in Kent who provided “pasta and freshly cooked curry”, which will be distributed with the Highways Agency.

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"The council should step it up... they need to provide at least two or three meals a day. If they need help they should reach out to organisations like us who would be more than happy to do so.

"I think it just shows the spirit of Christmas. No matter what faith you are, these guys are trying to get home to their families.”

“We might be a Sikh organisation, but we are still human beings. This is the best of British, we just get on with it and help those who need it.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “There are strict COVID procedures at Manston to keep everyone safe, including social distancing measures and the provision of face masks and hand sanitiser.

“We expect drivers to remain in their cabs unless using the welfare facilities, and they are continually reminded to follow the correct procedures through posters, leaflets and instructions from staff.”

Kent Police told LBC it was Kent County Council who are responsible for provision of aid to drivers. The council have been approached for comment.