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crack-down Ex-UDA chief Dee Coleman quizzed over attempted murder of man left in Co Antrim field

The cocaine boss has been holed-up in Ballymena since he was booted out of the Shankill area by the UDA

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Dee Coleman was previously quizzed by police in relation to the incident along with three others

Dee Coleman was previously quizzed by police in relation to the incident along with three others

Dee Coleman was previously quizzed by police in relation to the incident along with three others

Notorious ex-UDA chief Dee Coleman was one of four men quizzed last week about the attempted murder of a man left for dead in a Co Antrim field last month.

The 36-year-old cocaine kingpin has been holed up in Ballymena since he was exiled from the UDA on the Shankill Road where he is suspected of once running one of Ulster’s most lucrative drugs empires.

Last Wednesday morning he was scooped by detectives in a dawn raid at a property he was staying at in the Fountain Place area of the Bible belt town.

They arrested him under suspicion of attempted murder.

It’s understood the victim had suffered extensive stab wounds at the hands of his attackers and he remains in hospital a full month after being discovered.

Police are probing if the attempted murder bid is linked to an ongoing tensions in the underworld which has gripped Ballymena.

And we can reveal police forensic teams scoured premises close to where Coleman was living for a full 24 hours after his arrest.

We can further reveal those premises were previously owned by hardman heroin dealer Noel Johnston who fell to his death last month.

And as previously stated here, Coleman was living in a property in Fountain Place – also once owned by Noel Johnston.

In a further twist it has emerged one of the other four men arrested and later released along with Coleman for the attempted murder bid on the man dumped in a field was also a close friend of drug lord Johnston before he plummeted to his death.

Criminal sources believe the murder bid has been the catalyst for a number of police raids and violent incidents.

“Since this guy was found in that field there has been a lot of police activity, several raids and the death of Noel Johnston,” said a source.

“There’s a full-blown turf war going on in Ballymena and whatever happened to this man who came from Belfast it seems to have sparked things off.

He added: “And it was one of those raids that spooked Noel Johnston into jumping from a fourth-floor window.”

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Ballymena has come under close scrutiny in recent months as a drugs – and in particular a crack cocaine – epidemic sweeps the town.

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Drugs baron Noel Johnston

Drugs baron Noel Johnston

Drugs baron Noel Johnston

That was heightened by the death of Johnston who climbed out a fourth-floor window and died in a brutal fall, fearing he was about to be assassinated by a rival drugs gang when in fact the property was being raided by drug cops.

That raid came after a car had been stopped in the town and drugs were discovered in a number of follow-up raids across Co Antrim.

Johnston died two weeks after the victim from Belfast was found in the field and cops are now investigating whether the incidents are linked.

On October 11 the man was found lying in the Lisnamurrikin Road area, just outside Broughshane. He had extensive knife wounds to his chest and face and had sustained fractures to his skull and a month after being saved by a passer-by he remains in hospital.

He was treated at the scene by NIAS staff before being taken to hospital where his condition was initially described as serious.

A senior detective was quoted a week after he was found as saying: “If he had not been discovered when he was, he would not have survived.”

The PSNI believe the injured man travelled to Ballymena from Belfast the night before in a Volvo car which was found burned out the following morning – around the same time a member of the public discovered him close to death in a farmer’s field.

Police have confirmed that their operation over a 24-hour period at the address in Fountain Place, Ballymena, was in connection with the incident involving the discovery of the injured man.

The operation began early Wednesday morning when officers arrested four men. Three men were arrested in Ballymena while a fourth was detained in Belfast.

All four were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and arson and were all later released on bail pending further inquiries.

But police and forensics teams had been seen at a home and yard in the Fountain Place area long after Coleman had been arrested.

Witnesses say ‘four or five’ white-suited forensics officers arrived at the premises which was being guarded by uniformed officers, at least one armed with an assault rifle.

Detective Inspector Michael McCoy from Mid and East Antrim Criminal Investigation Department said: “A team of detectives has been working tirelessly since this horrific incident and have today made four arrests. Three men aged 36, 39 and 51 were arrested in the Ballymena area and one man aged 38 was arrested in the greater Belfast area.

“All four men have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and arson and remain in custody at this time.

“The investigation is continuing and I would like to repeat my appeal for anyone with any information which could assist us with our inquiries to get in touch.”

In the aftermath of the death of Noel Johnston we revealed how former UDA chief Andre Shoukri is ready to challenge exiled UDA coke dealer Coleman in a fight to be Ballymena’s drugs boss.

We explained how crack cocaine is the drug driving the war, with users from all over Ulster desperate for their next hit of the life-sapping narcotic.

Both Shoukri and Coleman are from Belfast but have realised just how lucrative the drugs market is in Ballymena – and they aren’t the only big players from the capital to decide Ballymena is the place to make serious money.

It’s understood Coleman had teamed up with Johnston with some reports he was living in one of Johnston’s properties for a while after he was forced to flee the Shankill.

Dee Coleman fled west Belfast in January after falling out with the UDA over drugs and cash. He sought refuge in Ballymena and was given it by Noel Johnston.

Now Coleman is raking in the cash selling ordinary coke as well as crack despite facing charges for dealing – using the contacts he had when he ran Dee’s Labs from his Shankill home.

steven.moore@sundayworld.com

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