The English have for centuries tried to get up the noses of the French.

With their stereotypical jokes about berets, onions and frogs legs, revenge would always be a dish best served cold to their neighbours across The Channel.

Yesterday, it came in the form of a foul smelling gas cloud which descended on the South East and could also be smelt hundreds of miles away in London.

Loading article content

Dozens of calls were made to emergency services after the accidental discharge of the gas mercaptan from a factory in Rouen, 75 miles north of Paris.

People in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and parts of the UK capital reported the unpleasant aroma but emergency services said the gas is harmless and presents no danger to the public.

Sussex Police said they had received more than 25 calls by 9.15am, neighbouring Surrey had 15 calls by 11.30am, and Kent Police had a large number of calls. "We understand that this smell emanates from an accidental factory discharge in Rouen," said a Sussex Police spokesman. "The smell is from an additive to the gas which has an unpleasant aroma but is not toxic and there is no danger to the public."

The factory at the centre of the leak is thought to be owned by Lubrizol, a subsidiary of investor Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway group.

Kent Fire and Rescue Service said: "South Kent residents are being asked to keep doors and windows closed due to a gas cloud that is believed to have come across from France."

However, there is no suggestion the gas will reach Scotland, thus preserving the Auld Alliance at least.