Petrol prices have hit a new average high of 121.76 pence a litre, ahead of further price rises due in the New Year with VAT rising to 20%. The peak was reached following a week in which snow and ice had brought chaos to the UK’s roads, and oil companies and fuel retailers were accused of profiteering as fuel supplies ran short.

"This new data brings bad news for the beleaguered independent petrol retailers at a time when their businesses have been hit by the arctic weather. It also brings bad news for the motorist in the run up to the Christmas holiday season, said RMIP chairman Brian Madderson.

"This high price of petrol has come about entirely from the increases in wholesale cost of product from the oil companies on the back of the increasing global price of crude oil to a new two-year high of over $91 a barrel."

Earlier in the week Madderson had reacted angrily to suggestions in the national media that fuel retailers had been taking advantage of the severe weather conditions and consequent supply shortages to rip off motorists at the pump with extortionate prices.

In one newspaper the AA was quoted as saying that Britain’s 33 million drivers were being “stung at the pumps” as fuel prices headed towards record highs.

Madderson, who has been busy defending independent retailers on TV and radio, said: “This is just not correct. Global price of crude recently hit a two-year high at over $91/barrel; the pound has weakened, and biofuels are ramping up. The arctic weather here and on the continent has produced a surge for heating oil.

“Thus the cost of product to the independent fuel retailers has increased from around 95.6ppl on November 18 to more than 100ppl on December 3 – in other words a real 5ppl rise in just over two weeks. With reduced volume demand and already wafer-thin margins, retailers are in no position to absorb such product increases.

“In fact the cost of product increased 1.5ppl last week alone. The AA should check its facts before making such inflammatory and incorrect statements. None of our members have profiteered from the very real fuel shortages seen during the cold spell. Indeed many have suffered as customers and fuel struggled to get to petrol forecourts.”

Currently Scotland, the north east and East Anglia are having the worst problems, with temperatures as low as -15c in some areas. In Scotland the Army has been called in to help clear roads and pavements. A slight thaw is forecast for this weekend with a return to freezing temperatures at the end of this week.

RMIP joined the chorus of criticism of Scottish transport authorities for failing to maintain the M8 - the main highway for fuel tankers for the Grangemouth refinery - during the bad weather.