Larne fire engine rampage: pensioner and teenager charged

ONE of the men charged with taking a fire engine from a fire station in Larne at the weekend is Bobby Duffin, a well-known pensioner in the area.

The 66-year-old is charged along with a 19-year-old man in connection with the unauthorised taking of the vehicle early on Saturday.

They are due to appear before Coleraine Magistrates Court on Monday morning.

Mr Duffin, who is understood to live alone at a house in Kilwaugther just outside the town, is a well-known character in the village and beyond.

He is alleged to have taken the vehicle from Larne Fire Station at about 4.30am.

The fire engine was brought on a rampage, finally crashing into a garden at Glenarm Road.

It damaged several houses and cars along the street.

It is believed the engine may even have been driven as far away as Ballyboley – around seven miles from Larne in the direction of Ballymena.

At one point it is said the perpetrators even tried to return the vehicle to the station but struggled to reverse it through the entrance.

People living on Glenarm Road said they heard loud bangs before looking out to see the surreal sight of a crashed fire engine.

One of them was John Lashford, in whose garden the vehicle came to rest.

“I looked down and couldn’t believe my eyes. There’s a fire engine in my front garden,” he said.

“And then I looked over… and looked at the absolute carnage of the cars that were littered down the road and were smashed.”

The repair bill for damage caused to property and vehicles is expected to run into many thousands of pounds.

A fully equipped fire engine can cost up to £300,000.

It is understood keys are routinely left either in the ignition or easily accessible to allow firefighters a quick exit from the station when they answer emergency calls.

However, other security measures are in place that must be passed before the vehicle can be driven.

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said the scene on Glenarm Road was “almost unbelievable”.

“Thankfully no-one was seriously injured, although one local resident had to get medical treatment after suffering an asthma attack,” he said.

“It could have been much worse, as I understand that the tracker in the fire engine showed that it had been as far as Ballyboley before the crash happened back in the town.”

A spokesman for the fire and rescue service said it had had “initiated their business continuity arrangements to ensure fire cover is maintained within the Larne area”.

Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan said the incident “beggars belief”.

“We are very lucky no-one was killed or seriously injured after the fire engine crashed into parked cars and buildings,” he said.

“I will also be asking the fire chiefs how civilians were able to gain access to this appliance and see what security measures can be implemented so this cannot occur again.”

The two men face charges including burglary, aggravated vehicle taking causing damage to another vehicle and aggravated vehicle taking causing damage to property.

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