A court has been told that a Co Antrim pensioner who had a “fascination with blue lights” on emergency vehicles will not face prosecution for allegedly hitching a ride on a stolen fire engine.
The vehicle ended up causing around £1.5 million-worth of damage in March last year, crashing into Larne Fire Station, six terraced homes, seven parked cars and a lorry in March last year.
The 68-year-old Robert Duffin, deemed by top psychiatrists to be “unfit” to stand trial, had faced 11 charges arising out of the joyride on the fire engine.
On Monday, prosecution barrister Michael Chambers told Judge Desmond Marrinan at Antrim Crown Court that in light of the 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 had involved the aggravated taking of the Volvo engine from it’s Agnew Street station, and 10 charges of criminal damage.
When initially returned for trial last year, Ballymena district judge Peter King heard that, allegedly, the pensioner had a “fascination with blue lights”.
At the time, defence barrister Stephen Law commented that as it careered around the streets of the east Antrim port town, it left a path of destruction like something from “a trailer for the next ‘Hangover’ movie” – a reference to a film franchise following a group of men’s wild misadventures.
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, Ross Clarke originally of Fairway in Larne, who had never been behind the wheel of any vehicle, 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 4.30am.
The vehicle eventually came to a halt in the front garden of a house in Larne’s Glenarm Road.
In all, the 20-year-old, said to have a “severe learning disability” and now with an address in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, pleaded guilty to a total of 21 charges.
In addition to causing criminal damage of the six homes and nine vehicles (including the fire applaince itself) Ross also damaging a shop doorway, attempted burglary, dangerous driving, driving without insurance, and failing to report, stop, or remain at the scene of an accident.