The 36 year-old Larne man died two weeks ago after falling from a bonfire he had helped build on the port town’s Antiville estate. He was struck on the head by a falling pallet which cause him to lose his balance.
But today the Sunday World uncovers details of how John’s short life - like many other young men in Larne - was lived under the jackboot of loyalist paramilitaries.
A year ago last May, John Steele was rushed to hospital when he accidently overdosed on drugs. He remained in intensive care for two weeks as doctors fought to save him.
But weeks before, John had been ordered to hand over the keys of his DLA car to loyalist enforcers.
UDA thugs from the so-called South East Antrim Brigade surrounded John Steele’s car on the town’s Antiville estate. And they forced the father of two to hand over the keys of the vehicle before seizing it.
The former window cleaner was first ordered to step out the car and stand on the pavement. And as he did so, a UDA man jumped into the driver’s seat before starting the engine and driving off.
John Steele - who was entitled to a DLA car to help him battle underlying health issues - was told to make his own way home.
And as he started off on foot, another UDA man shouted: “You’ll get the car back when we say so.”
It was the last time John Steele saw his Disability Living Allowance vehicle for nine months!
John Steele learned later he had been penalised by loyalist paramilitary leaders after UDA thugs accused him of driving his DLA car around Antiville, under the influence of drugs.
The decision to impound the vehicle had been taken the night before at a special UDA ‘Kangaroo’ court on the estate in which John played no part.
And the organisation wanted it to be known, that seizing the vehicle was a prior step to a more severe punishment.
It is believed the loyalist group kept John Steele’s car at a secret off-road location for a full nine months, before returning it to him.
Yesterday, John Steele’s devastated parents Arty and Jackie Steele declined to say why the UDA had seized their son’s DLA car when we spoke with them at their Lindara home.
Explaining she had contracted Covid hours after her son’s funeral last Thursday, John’s mum, spoke to us through a slightly open window.
And still clearly distraught at the loss of her only son, Jackie Steele said simply: “I can’t comment on anything at the moment.”
John Steele (36) died two weeks ago yesterday. He passed away 50 minutes after falling from an 11th night bonfire he had helped build on the seaside town’s Antiville estate.
The Antiville bonfire was constructed a short distance from the huge Craigyhill pyre which reached a world record height of over 202ft tall.
Just 24 hours before he lost his life, John Steele took a ‘selfie’ as he stood on the upper reaches of the soon to be lit bonfire. It was Larne man’s last ever photograph.
But the simple snap - showing him sporting his trademark baseball hat with a rolled up cigarette in his mouth failed to reveal John - like other young men on the estate - had been warned not miss bonfire building duties or face the consequences.
We were told that at least three young men were beaten up - or ‘smashed’ as they say in Larne - for failing to turn up as ordered.
“SEA Antrim UDA rule is now law in Larne.” one man told us.
And as revealed in the Sunday World last week, John Steele tragically plunged 50 feet to his death when he was struck on the head by a pallet which had fallen from above.
The powerful blow caused the former window cleaner to lose his balance and it sent him crashing to the ground.
Medical staff - arriving almost immediately - battled bravely to save John. But just 50 minutes later, they were forced to call it quits and John Steele was declared dead at the scene.
Local people gathered around the bonfire site - including John’s mum Jackie - and others in the surrounding estates of Antiville and Craigyhill, were plunged into a state of immediate shock.
News of John’s Steele’s death at the bonfire he helped to build and within in sight of the home he shared with his mum and dad, spread like wildfire. It left everyone who knew him stunned.
As well as a devastated community, John Steele left behind two lovely children who were his pride and joy.
“John had lived in Antiville all of his life. As a boy he collected for the bonfire and he became an expert bonfire builder. And because he had also worked as a window cleaner in the area, he was known and liked by everyone.” one woman told us.
“Even now, two weeks later, it’s still hard to take in. And it will be a long time before this estate recovers. John was John and we all loved him.” she said.
With the emotion of John’s funeral beginning to subside, the Sunday World found the twin estates of Craigyhill and Antiville very different places when we visited them this week.
Despite threats from the SEA UDA of violent reprisal for anyone caught talking to the press, locals found their own way of contacting us.
Whilst the veil of fear still hangs over Antiville like a bad smell, residents were keen to speak out about the stranglehold paramilitaries and the SEA UDA in particular, has on the Co. Antrim port town.
John’s death brings the death toll near bonfire sites in Larne to three. But by far, the biggest threat to a stable community in Larne today is drugs.
“Drugs are the key to all of this. The SEA UDA flooded these estates with drugs and now half the community is hooked on them.” one man told us.
So called ‘Blues’ and ‘Yellows’, have become currency in Larne. And the sale of tablets on the estates is controlled by a UDA Johnny-come-lately, known to locals as ‘The Fat Man’.
Despite his comparatively recent rise through the ranks of the paramilitary organisation, he currently holds the position of No2 in the UDA pecking order.
“This man appeared to come from nowhere, but he lets everyone know he’s a top dog.” an Antiville resident told us.
Our investigations revealed the housing estates of Larne awash with fake drugs which are mass produced in China before being imported into the UK and Ireland.
‘Blues’ and ‘Yellows’ are currently the drug of choice among young consumers in Larne.
But we also learned fake cocaine - a a relaxant laced with the embalming fluid Oxycodone and known as ‘Hill Billy Heroin’, is also available.
One of the biggest buyers of these totally illegal products is the leadership of the SEA Antrim UDA based in nearby Rathcoole.
After a consignment arrives in the area, an army of loyalist underlings - acting as street dealers - distribute the death delivering drugs to eager buyers.
“The people of Craigyhill and Antiville are in desperate need of help. At the moment we are under the control of the SEA UDA and that’s no future for anyone.” an elderly resident told us.
On Friday, Paul McCusker - an SDLP representative on Belfast City Council and homeless campaigner -revealed 15 people living rough on the streets or struggling with substance abuse have died in recent weeks.