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Pensioner linked to fire engine rampage made hoax 999 call

By Nevin Farrell

Published 11/11/2016

Robert Duffin leaves Ballymena Court
Robert Duffin leaves Ballymena Court
Destruction caused by a stolen fire engine

An OAP allegedly involved in the case of the stolen fire engine that was driven around Larne, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, previously made a hoax 999 call claiming a woman was on fire, a court was told yesterday.

Two fire engines were sent to scene after Robert Duffin (66) called emergency services from his mobile phone on New Year's Day this year, Ballymena Magistrates' Court heard.

During a previous hearing at the same court, Duffin was convicted in his absence of making a false alarm.

At the time, his defence barrister, Stephen Law, said contact had been made with the Simon Community, with which Duffin lives, and that his client was aware of the case.

However, staff said he was "a vulnerable individual" and was not suitable for travelling to Ballymena on his own.

In court yesterday, a prosecutor said police had responded to a 999 call about "a woman on fire". When they arrived, two fire engines were at the scene.

The lawyer said Duffin, who is originally from Green Link in Larne but is now living at the Simon Community on the Curran Road, admitted making the call, but said that he had been told the information by an unnamed third party.

Mr Law admitted that his client has a lengthy criminal record dating back to 1970, including several driving offences.

He added that Duffin admitted making the call, claiming that because he made it from his mobile, it was "not of a sinister nature".

Mr Law said Duffin claimed an individual had contacted him about the alleged fire, adding his client had "memory problems".

District Judge Peter King said that with a pre-sentence report highlighting Duffin's criminal record, there was a "high likelihood" of re-offending.

The judge told the court that it was "foolish and dangerous" to divert the emergency services in this way and added that he would adjourn sentencing until next April for Duffin to show that he has the "ability to avoid being a nuisance" to the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service.

But he also warned him that if he repeated his behaviour, "all bets are off".

Mr Law said his client would "strenuously contest" matters in the fire engine rampage case.

Duffin and Ross Clarke (19), of Fairway, Larne, are charged and a preliminary inquiry is due to be held later this month.

Earlier this year, a court was told the stolen Volvo fire engine was allegedly driven by Clarke, who is said to have a severe learning disability.

During the incident, the fire engine careered out of control on Larne's Glenarm Road, causing damage to the appliance, a number of other vehicles and six homes.

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