03 June 2005

Belfast Telegraph

Loyalists in clash at murder case

By Brian Hutton
03 June 2005

A leading police officer today prevented a man being thrown over the fourth floor balcony of Belfast's Laganside Courthouse as rivals in a murder case clashed.

Superintendent Roy McComb intervened in the bloody fracas outside Crown Court just minutes before judgment was to be given in the murder of Red Hand Commando drug dealing supremo Jim "Jonty" Johnston in the driveway of his luxury Co Down home on May 8, 2003.

A crowd of around 30 people were awaiting the judgment in the case of 41-year-old Robert John Benson Young at court 15, on the fourth floor of the courthouse, when the trouble erupted.

It is understood that a friend of the accused approached a friend or family member of Mr Johnston and after an exchange of words fists were thrown, just before the judgment was due to be heard.

Security staff radioed for help and plain clothes police moved in to separate the pair, who by then were circled by the crowd.

At one point one of the men was forced up against the glass safety panel of the fourth floor balcony when Superintendent Roy McComb and other plain clothes officers intervened, preventing him from being forced over the partition.

One woman ran into the court screaming "there's murder out there", to other members and friends of the Johnston family.

According to court reporter Mickey Donnelly, who was at the scene, one of the defendant's supporters shouted "Up the Loyalist Volunteer Force" as that faction left the building.

Supporters of the accused were ordered off the premises - BBC photo

"He had his nose cut up and there was blood spattered over his clothes," he said.

The family and friends of Mr Johnston remained in the court while the rival crowd left.

The case was adjourned with a time and date for a verdict to be fixed.

No arrests were made but it is understood that the incident may have been caught on the CCTV surveillance system.

Several police riot squads were among the large security presence at the courthouse for the case.

Young, from Ulsterville Park in Portadown, denies Johnston's murder, while his 39-year-old sister Lorraine from Church Hill, Holywood, is accused of providing him with a false alibi.

A second Co Down woman, 35-year-old Susan Ferguson from Westlink in Holywood, is on trial with them accused of possessing a magazine for a 9mm Taurus pistol, which was found at the scene of the shooting.

She is also accused of having a second magazine found during a search of her home.

Johnston (46), was a senior member of the UVF- linked Red Hand Commando and was regarded as a major player in the drugs trade.

He was shot as he was closing the gates to his luxury Crawfordsburn home on May 8, 2003.

The trial had heard that the drug dealer was ambushed by two gunmen who fired 14 shots, hitting him 11 times.

His four-bedroom family home in the affluent Ballyrobert Road area was sold for £410,000 last November after it was seized by the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA).

Earlier this year, another four properties belonging to Johnston were sold off by the ARA for over a quarter of a million pounds.

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