Friends say dealer fell trying to escape flat
A major cocaine dealer fell to his death from a third floor flat during a PSNI drugs bust on Friday night.
The Police Ombudsman is now investigating the circumstances surrounding how Noel Johnston lost his life.
Locals claim that the 61-year-old crime kingpin — who was before the courts on fraud charges — tried to escape out the window fearing police were about to break down the apartment door and arrest him.
Johnston is believed to have slipped, with the impact of the fall causing fatal internal injuries.
The PSNI has referred his sudden death to the Police Ombudsman as it occurred during an ongoing operation.
A spokeswoman said: “Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the sudden death of a man in the High Street area of Ballymena on October 15.
“It was reported that at around 6.40pm, a man fell after climbing out of a window of a flat. Despite the best efforts of police and Northern Ireland Ambulance Service the man was pronounced dead at the scene.”
The raid on Johnston’s apartment was part of a wider operation by the PSNI’s Organised Crime Unit into the wholesale supply of drugs across Co Antrim.
It started on Friday afternoon when a 39-year-old man was stopped in a car travelling through Ballymena and arrested for drugs offences.
Follow-up searches in the town, alongside raids in Belfast and Larne, led to a 34-year-old man being arrested and £300,000 of drugs being sized.
Both men were also arrested on suspicion of offences in relation to the seizure of £400,000 of suspected Class B drugs recovered between May and September.
On Saturday evening the two men were charged with a number of offences, including possession of a Class B controlled drug and possession of a Class B controlled drug with intent to supply. Both are expected to appear before Coleraine Magistrates Court on Monday.
Friends of Johnston confirmed his death, saying it has left his family devastated.
One pal revealed: “They’re in bits. Noel might have been involved in criminality but he loved his wife Kay and his children. He doted on them.”
Prior to his sudden death on Friday career criminal Johnston would have been one of Ballymena’s biggest drug dealers.
He was under investigation by the PSNI over his role in the supply of cocaine via the encrypted Encrochat phone network which was breached by law enforcement agencies last year. Dozens of alleged prominent criminals are now facing charges as part of the probe.
Johnston was also before the courts accused of masterminding a massive fraud centring on the theft of classic cars and motorcycles, and the staging of minor road crashes in order to obtain compensation claims.
Among the expensive vehicles he is alleged to have stolen are a Rolls Royce Corniche, Audi TT, Holden Monara, MG Midget, Volkswagen Golf and Mercedes ML 500 4x4.
Car smashes Johnston was accused of setting up occurred in Ballymena, Claudy and Omeath in Co Louth.
Several years ago the grandfather had to hand over property to the Assets Recovery Agency after being convicted of drug dealing.
Johnston counted among his closest friends the ex-UVF leader in Ballymena Paul Gray, and convicted drug dealer Sam Surgenor.
Another pal was drug dealer Darren ‘Fruity’ Gilmore who was convicted of trying to burn down the Catholic church which Johnston attended as a boy.
The PSNI say Friday’s drugs arrests and searches, during which Johnston fell from a third floor window, are part of its efforts to “safeguard the community”.
Detective Inspector Kelly said: “The removal of drugs from our streets reflects our ongoing commitment to safeguarding the community.
“The possession and distribution of drugs within communities will not and should not be tolerated and we will continue our campaign against those who are intent on profiting from the significant harm caused by drugs criminality and activity.”