Belfast Telegraph

Mesmerised Northern Ireland man won't face trial over fire engine ride

By Michael Donnelly

A Co Antrim pensioner mesmerised by the 'blue flashing lights' of emergency vehicles won't now face prosecution for allegedly hitching a ride on a stolen fire engine which ended up causing £1.5m worth of damage in March last year.

Robert Duffin (68) deemed by top psychiatrists to be 'unfit' to stand trial, had faced 11 charges arising out of the joyride on the fire engine which not only crashed into Larne Fire Station and six terraced homes, but also careered into seven parked cars and a lorry.

On Monday prosecution barrister Michael Chambers told Antrim Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan in light of the medical reports, the charges against the Larne pensioner, originally of Curran Road, but now living with the Simon Community, 'should remain on the books not to be proceeded with'.

The charges arising out of the nightmare ride with sirens and blue lights flashing, had involved the aggravated taking of the Volvo engine from Agnew Street station, and ten charges of criminal damage.

When initially returned for trial last year, Ballymena District Judge Peter King heard that allegedly the pensioner with a “fascination with blue lights”, had told the drunken teenage driver of the stolen appliance not to go down a one-way street, and had even stopped for a 'red light'.

At the time, defence barrister Stephen Law commented that as it careered around the streets of the ferry town, the fire engine left in its wake a path of destruction like something from 'a trailer for the next ‘Hangover’ movie'.

Duffin was not in court for the brief hearing during which defence QC Neil Connor and Judge Marrinan both described the decision of the PPS not to continue with the prosecution as "very sensible".

The then teenage driver of the stolen engine, who'd never been behind the wheel of any vehicle, Ross Clarke originally of Fairway in Larne, is due to be sentenced later this month.

He admitted a catalogue of offences including criminal damage and motoring offences arising out of his drive of destruction which woke startled residents around 4.30 in the morning as he not only crashed into the fire station wall, but into six of their terraced homes, and careered into seven parked cars and a lorry.

The vehicles were strewn across the road - one flipped on to its roof - with the engine, its blue emergency lights still flashing, finally coming to a halt in the front garden of one of the houses in Larne's Glenarm Road.

In all the 20-year-old, now with an address in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, pleaded guilty to a total of 21 charges, including the aggravated taking of the fire appliance and to causing damage to a wall of the Larne station.

In addition to causing criminal damage to the six homes and nine vehicle, including the fire appliance itself, Ross said to have "severe learning disability", also admitted damaging a shop doorway, attempted burglary, dangerous driving, driving without insurance, and failing either to report, stop, or remain at the scene of an accident.

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