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Police officer reveals desperate attempt to save drug dealer’s life after 40-foot fall

The officer confirmed that “sustained attempts” at resuscitation were made for about an hour at the scene before stopping.

The father-of-two, accused of flooding Ballymena with the deadly drug heroin in the 1990s, tried to escape through a third-floor window of a Choice Housing Association apartment block in the city on October 15, 2021 and died despite the police’s frantic attempts to save him. him.

Moments earlier, a heavily armed PSNI Tactical Support Group unit had broken into an apartment where a suspicious party was taking place.

Johnston (61), under threat, feared it was an attack by a rival gang of loyal drug dealers and ran to the bathroom window to escape.

During the height of his power, Johnston had risen to the top of Ulster’s drug lords.

He introduced heroin to Ballymena at the turn of the millennium and soon brought the Bible Belt town to its knees.

He built a warehouse on land at the back of a property on affluent Ballymoney Road that housed his collection of “boys’ toys” – vintage cars and motorbikes.

He also invested heavily in paintings by artists such as Charlie McCauley.

The inquest heard police were attempting to force entry to the property at 54 High Street on foot of a drugs search warrant in respect of a person, but not Johnston.

Johnston fell after climbing out of a third-floor apartment window during a police raid.

Constable McCullough, who was part of the search team and was present at the property, told the inquest that, following a search, she and her police colleagues initiated forced entry at the front door of the third-floor apartment. at 6:39 pm using an ‘enforcer’ (similar to a battering ram) which took up to two minutes to enter.

He confirmed that in addition to the noise that would have been generated by the use of the equipment, the police gave a verbal warning that they were trying to enter.

The officer said the front door was the only entrance and exit to the apartment and at the time of the operation police did not know Johnston was inside.

The officer told the inquest that after entering the building, she and other colleagues received a police radio report of an injured man lying in the rear parking lot and believed to have left the apartment through a rear window.

She confirmed that the report came from a member of the public who called the police, unlike any information obtained from the occupants of the apartment.

The PSNI officer said the people found in the living room at the time of the search appeared to be unaware that Johnston had gone out or fallen.

She said she and her colleagues immediately went to the rear of the property and found a man, known to them as Johnston.

The investigation found Johnston had a serious head injury, apparent back injury, was semi-conscious and unable to speak.

The officer told coroner Anne Louise Toal that Johnston was “losing a lot of blood due to a head injury.”

She described how she and her colleagues performed CPR. Upon investigation, she discovered that the bathroom window was open.

The coroner heard that although there was CCTV footage from both the inside of the building at the front door of the flat and the outside, it did not show Johnston climbing out of the window and onto the drainpipe, but simply showed him falling.

A PSNI crime scene investigator (CSI) said he attended the apartment at 8pm on October 15, 2021.

He said that although the window was already closed, the handle was in the “open position” and police photographs taken at the time showed it open.

He confirmed that the window would have been large enough to allow Johnston to escape through it.

The CSI witness said that “objects had been thrown into the toilet, a tube of Fixodent had been crushed, and the toilet seat had been broken,” all of which he said were consistent with the circumstances in which Johnston “came out the window at full speed. .

When the investigation showed photographs of the scene, the crime scene examiner confirmed that “clear fingerprints were found on the exterior pipes directly outside the window” and that the marks were “consistent with the deceased having grabbed the pipe but “Then I had lost control.” , given the associated slide marks”.

He said all information gathered at the scene was consistent with Johnston “attempting to go down the pipe but lost control given the time of year.”

The witness said it was likely that due to the weather the pipe was wet.

Another police officer said that while they were in apartment 20, they were informed that there was an incident at the rear of the apartments and that first aid was needed.

He said he retrieved his first aid bag and defibrillator and headed to the back of the property.

The officer said a police colleague was giving chest compressions to a man on his back.

“The man was bleeding profusely from a head wound and also from his mouth and there were no signs of life at the time,” the agent said.

Another police officer was attempting to open Johnston’s airway while an officer applied the defibrillator.

“The defibrillator did not recommend any shock and we continued CPR until the paramedics arrived.”

The officer confirmed that “sustained attempts” at resuscitation were made for about an hour at the scene before stopping.

The first officer who found Johnston said he was in a different part of the building on the ground floor during another search when police realized a man had jumped from a window.

She said she and a colleague immediately went to the rear of the building where they observed a man, known to them as Johnston, lying in a “twisted position partially on his right side, bleeding profusely from his nose, mouth and ears with a large wound on the back of the head.”

He requested further assistance from the ambulance service and began CPR immediately.

A PSNI sergeant described how Johnston was “unresponsive, bleeding profusely from his head and mouth and breathing very shallowly and irregularly”.

The inquest heard from a police witness that Johnston’s then partner attended the scene and provided identification of the body.

Dr Turner, Assistant State Pathologist who carried out the autopsy, told the inquest that the deceased had suffered a very serious head injury, in accordance with the circumstances described, with a fall from a height causing death. .

There were extensive skull fractures from a laceration to the back of his head and bleeding around and into his brain, resulting in bleeding into his airways.

Elsewhere there were only some other very minor injuries and toxicology identified the presence of cocaine in Johnston’s system, along with diazepam and a low alcohol reading.

She confirmed that none of them had a direct contribution to his death. The assistant state pathologist agreed that this was a “catastrophic and insurmountable head injury that would have been rapidly fatal with loss of consciousness from the impact.”

The investigation saw CCTV footage showing a split screen of both the outside of the apartment and the side of the property.

The coroner stated: “I believe that the police informed the occupants of their attempts to enter by a verbal warning and by the use of battering ram type equipment which would have been clearly audible to those in the apartment.

“I found that it took about two minutes for the police to enter, during which time the deceased attempted to exit the building through the rear bathroom window and attempted to climb down the drain pipe leading to the car park below.

“I discovered that before the police entered the property, the deceased had already climbed out of the bathroom window, let go of the pipe and fell while trying to climb down.

“I find that only upon entering the property did the police present learn from a call made to the police that the deceased had fallen and they immediately went to the place where they found him and made sustained attempts to save his life and summoned him. an emergency ambulance.

“I believe the cause of death is: 1(a) head injury due to (b) fall from a height.”

At the time of his death, Johnston was awaiting trial along with 29 other people for a total of 26 fraud and “dirty money” offences.

He had been charged with 17 counts of possession of criminal property, including £63,350 in cash, a Holden Monaro sports car, a BIG DOG motorcycle, a Rolex watch, an MG Midget car, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, a Volkswagen Golf, a Mercedes ML 500 4×4 vehicle, a cherrypicker vehicle and a Kawasaki motorcycle.

He faced six counts of initiating proceedings to acquire criminal property and three counts of being concerned in “cash accident” insurance fraud over road traffic accidents in Derry, Larne and Omagh between January 2011 and May 2013.

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