Men accused of rampage with fire engine are pleading ‘not guilty’

Firefighters had to use cutting equipment to free woman
Firefighters had to use cutting equipment to free woman

Two Larne men alleged to have taken a fire engine on a rampage causing “£1.5million” damage to houses and vehicles in the town pleaded not guilty to all charges when arraigned on Thursday.

Robert Duffin (67) originally of Green Link but now living at the Simon Community on the town’s Curran Road, and Ross Clarke (19), whose address was listed as Fairway in Larne, are accused of leaving behind a trail of destruction on March 5 this year.

Clarke faces 20 charges and Duffin eleven.

They are both jointly charged with ten counts of criminal damage.

The charges include causing damage to an articulated lorry belong to the BOC Group; damage to a house at 50 Glenarm Road and a Nissan Duke belonging to John Lashford; a Modus Renault belonging to John Kearney; a house and garden wall at 42 Glenarm Road and a Ford BMAX belonging to Marie Hamilton; a garden wall and garden at 48 Glenarm Road and a Peugeot belonging to Mary Maguire.

The other criminal damage charges relate to damage to a Lexus belonging to Thomas Jobling; a Mazda belonging to Colin Gorman; a Hyundai belonging to Margaret Campbell; and a house and garden at 52 Glenarm Road belonging to Geraldine Connon - and Larne Fire Station at Agnew Street.

Duffin alone is charged with aggravated taking of the same fire engine and allowing himself to be carried in the vehicle and that before it was recovered damage was caused to it.

Clarke is further charged with attempted burglary with intent to steal at Victoria Road, Larne; criminal damage to two doors belonging to Ryan McDonnell of Travelwise Coaches; dangerous driving on roads between Agnew Street and Glenarm Road in Larne; aggravated taking and driving a fire engine in that before it was recovered damage was caused to the vehicle.

Clarke is also charged with using a fire engine without insurance; failing to stop, remain and report an accident at Larne’s Harbour Highway and failing to stop and report an accident at Glenarm Road.

At a previous hearing, Clarke’s barrister Neil Moore said the damage allegedly caused was “£1.5 million”.

Earlier this year a court was told a Volvo fire engine was allegedly driven by Clarke who has a “severe learning disability”.

It was claimed by Mr Moore at a March hearing that Clarke had never driven a vehicle before and that accounted for him trying to reverse the engine back into Larne Fire Station at Agnew Street and crashing into a wall and causing severe damage.

At that court there were also claims that at one stage the driver was told not to go down a street because it was one-way and on another occasion the fire engine stopped at red traffic lights.

During the alleged rampage the fire engine careered out of control at Larne’s Glenarm Road causing damage to the vehicle, vehicles and dwellings.

The emergency vehicle’s flashing emergency lights were on when it was found embedded in the front of a house.

A police officer told the March court Duffin had a “fascination with blue lights”.

Duffin’s lawyer Stephen Law told that court the destruction caused was like a trailer for the next ‘Hangover’ movie.

A police officer told the March court he believed Clarke was driving the vehicle.

He said the area where the offences happened would be well-known to both the accused.

The officer said in March there had been a “public outcry” in relation to the Fire Service cover in the area being reduced due to the damage to the stolen fire engine.

At Antrim Crown Court on Thursday Clarke and Duffin were released on continuing bail and the case will be mentioned again in January.