Belfast Telegraph

Larne pensioner won't face prosecution over fire engine rampage that left £1.5m in damage

By Michael Donnelly

A pensioner said to be mesmerised by the "blue flashing lights" of emergency vehicles won't now face prosecution for allegedly hitching a ride on a stolen fire engine.

The incident in March 2016 caused £1.5m worth of damage.

Robert Duffin (68), who was deemed by psychiatrists to be 'unfit' to stand trial, had faced 11 charges arising from the ride on the fire engine, which hit Larne fire station, six terraced homes, seven parked cars and a lorry.

Yesterday, prosecution barrister Michael Chambers said, in light of the medical reports, that the charges against Duffin, originally of Curran Road, Larne, but now living with the Simon Community, "should remain on the books not to be proceeded with".

The charges involved the aggravated taking of the Volvo engine from its station, and 10 charges of criminal damage.

When initially returned for trial last year, a court heard the pensioner, who allegedly had a "fascination with blue lights", had told the driver not to go down a one-way street, and that it had stopped for a red light.

At the time, defence barrister Stephen Law said the fire engine left 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 Desmond 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, Ross Clarke, originally from Fairway in Larne, is due to be sentenced later this month.

He admitted a catalogue of charges, including criminal damage and motoring offences.

At the time, startled residents described being woken at around 4.30am as the fire engine was driven through the town.

Vehicles were strewn across the road with the engine, its blue emergency lights still flashing, coming to a halt in a front garden at Glenarm Road.

In all, Clarke (20), now with an address in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, pleaded guilty to 21 charges, including the aggravated taking of the fire appliance and to causing damage to a wall at the Larne fire station.

In addition to causing criminal damage to six homes and nine vehicle, including the fire appliance itself, Ross - said to have a "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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