Jim Johnston was a leading member of the small, right-wing and intensely sectarian Red Hand Commando group. He was known also to be one of Northern Ireland’s leading drug dealers.
Police investigating the attack believe Johnston was a victim of a fallout with former paramilitary associates. It is understood that he had feared for his safety after police warnings.
“The Special Branch had warned him he was under the threat of death,” a friend of the dead man said. “They had been to his home several times, warning him to step up his security because he was a target. He phoned me to tell me there was a spotter plane above his home.
“He felt he was under some sort of surveillance. Jim may have been involved in drugs a long, long time ago, but definitely not recently. He was a good lad.” Police said they believe Johnston had been involved in last September’s killing of LVF drug-dealer Stephen Warnock, whose death touched off a vicious internal loyalist feud.
Meanwhile, police say they have no doubt there was paramilitary involvement during trouble between loyalists in East Belfast. Two men are in a critical condition following the disturbances that started on Sunday outside a pub.
Police were called to the area as rival loyalist factions from the UDA and UVF clashed after a local loyalist band parade. Up to 300 people were involved in the fighting, which lasted for about two hours.
At one point a 38-year-old man was hit over the head with an implement. A gun was then produced and a 27-year-old man was shot in the shoulder. Both men were remain hospitalized in critical condition.
Police inspector John McKeag appealed to any witnesses to contact the police. I have no doubt there was paramilitary involvement,” he said. “I would like to appeal to any witnesses to this incident to come forward to police.”