CAR THIEVES MESS WITH WRONG MAN

THE three men who tried to hijack a cab they’d hailed in Dollingstown last week chose the wrong taxi driver to mess with.

The ‘MAIL’ spoke with the local taxi driver and learnt how he fought off the would-be hijackers who attacked him with a screwdriver and how they ended up in his taxi in the first place.

Further details of the sequence of events from last Thursday morning have emerged and it seems the three men responsible for the attempted hijacking had been in the area looking for a car to steal.

The ‘MAIL’ received reports of several instances of attempted break-ins to vehicles in the Lurgan and Dollingstown area in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The failed attempts to steal a car coincide with three men getting a taxi in Dollingstown, then attacking the driver with a screwdriver upon arrival in north Belfast.

They met their match when the taxi driver fought back, refusing to give up his cab and landing several punches before his assailants ran off.

Police confirmed they were investigating both the attempted hijacking and the attempted car thefts but said it was too early to say if they were linked.

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The taxi driver who picked the three men up in Dollingstown was 48-year-old Thomas Brownlee who owns Z Cabs in Portadown.

It’s understood the only reason Thomas took the job was because the call had come via a friend of his who works in Huhtamaki on the Inn Road.

Thomas told the ‘MAIL’: “They were cocky because one of them walked right down into the factory and pretended he was a lorry driver needing a lift back to Belfast.

“He spoke to a friend of mine who works in the factory and he gave him my number. Because it came through my friend I took the job otherwise I’d have told the guy to use a local company. We’re based in Portadown and don’t normally do jobs in Lurgan or Dollingstown.

“My friend is very upset that he put them onto me, but I told him it could just as easily have come through an operator. He wasn’t to know what was going to happen.

“When I arrived the three men were standing chatting to the security guard. They paid up front so I’d no reason to suspect anything.”

He added: “The three of them chatted amongst themselves the whole way to Belfast. I asked them if they’d been out for the night, but they said they’d been visiting relatives.”

It was only when Thomas arrived in north Belfast that he realised he was in danger.

Upon arrival at Hopewell Place a screwdriver was held to Thomas’s neck as the men attempted to hijack his taxi.

“As soon as I stopped the car it kicked off,” he said. “The screwdriver was put to my neck, but I managed to get my finger over the end of it. I knew it was a Phillips because it had a sharp end. I prised it away from my neck and that’s when I got grazed.

“Another one of them got the car keys and tried to run off. I went for him and got him with a lovely right upper cut and he was out on his feet. I got the car keys back and there was a few punches thrown before the three of them legged it.

“My wife wasn’t happy when she realised I’d fought back. She thinks I should have given them the car. I wasn’t for letting them have the car or my keys.”

Thomas’s taxi was left badly damaged and to compound matters Thomas received a £60 fine for driving whilst using a mobile phone when he answered a call from CID about the incident and was spotted by local police.

Commenting on the series of events last week Thomas said: “I’d bet a week’s wages these boys were the ones who were trying to steal a car in Lurgan and Dollingstown. Why else are three boys wandering the streets in the early hours of the morning with a Phillips screwdriver?”

Detectives are investigating the attack on Mr Brownlee and the attempted taxi hijacking which happened around 6.40am on Thursday morning.

They are also appealing following a number of incidents of criminal damage in the Lurgan and Dollingstown area.

Overnight, between Wednesday, January 11 and Thursday, January 12, seven cars were damaged and attempts made to gain entry to some of them. Cars in the Kingsway Drive, Demesne Avenue, Beechfield Hall, Holly Hill, Springfort Lodge, Lilburn Hall and Belfast Road were damaged. In one incident a Samsung mobile phone was taken from a vehicle.

Police received reports of a man seen acting suspiciously around a white Hyundai van on Belfast Road at around 4.45am on Thursday morning.

Police are appealing to anyone who has information in relation to the attempted car thefts to contact them in Lurgan on 0845 600 8000.

A spokesperson said: “It would be too early to say if they were linked to the hijacking incident however officers are investigating and will follow all lines of enquiry.”