Belfast Telegraph

Fire engine rampage accused avoids prison term over hoax 999 call

By Nevin Farrell

A pensioner charged with taking a fire truck on a rampage through Larne and causing £1.5m worth of damage has been given a suspended sentence for making a hoax 999 call saying a woman was ablaze.

Robert Duffin (67), originally of Green Link but now with an address at a hostel in the town, is accused of taking the appliance from the town's fire station with another man on March 5 last year and causing criminal damage.

He is denying those charges.

A co-accused Ross Clarke (20), originally of Fairway in Larne, has already pleaded guilty to a catalogue of offences arising out of the fire engine incident.

At a previous hearing Clarke's barrister said the damage caused totalled £1.5m.

Duffin was in Ballymena Magistrates Court yesterday for a separate case in which sentencing had been deferred from last autumn over him making a false alarm call about a fire.

He had previously been found guilty in his absence from court.

A prosecutor told the court yesterday that at 1.30am on January 1, 2016, police went to Green Link regarding a 999 call that a "woman was on fire". Two fire engines were already there.

The court heard Duffin admitted making the call, which was a hoax, but that the defendant claimed he had received a call to his mobile phone from an unnamed third party telling him about a fire.

Defence barrister Stephen Law made reference to the fire engine rampage case and said a co-accused had pleaded guilty, but Duffin is "maintaining his position as regards his innocence" and a trial is due at the end of next month.

Mr Law said the hoax call case had been deferred to see if Duffin came to adverse police notice and said that had been the case.

However, Mr Law added Duffin "seems to be ambivalent, a bit confused, as to where he stands in respect of culpability in respect of this offence".

The lawyer said the defendant "needs intensive Social Services intervention to assist him".

When the case was last mentioned in November, District Judge Peter King said it was "foolish and dangerous" to divert the emergency services and said he would adjourn sentencing until this month for Duffin to show he has the "ability to avoid being a nuisance to the Fire and Rescue Service".

He warned Duffin if there was a repeat of the behaviour "all bets are off".

At yesterday's hearing, Judge King said the defendant had stayed out of trouble. He told him: "It is quite clear you have much more pressing and much more serious matters at Antrim Crown Court."

He said Duffin had honoured his side of the bargain by staying out of trouble, and imposed a suspended jail term.

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