A father standing trial with two of his sons and another man for the murder of a police fugitive told a court he was the only one who attacked the victim, because he feared he would be shot.
Donegal town native Robert Johnston, known as Derek, told Reading Crown Court he “panicked” and hit Shaleem Amar – known to him as Max – with a lump hammer when a row started over a £10,000 loss in their VAT fraud enterprise.
Derek Johnston told the jury that he “completely lost his cool” after Mr Amar threatened to shoot him with a gun he kept in a drawer in the kitchen of the luxury home Mr. Amar rented under an alias in Sunninghill.
He told the court the argument escalated when Johnston called his 5ft 4in victim “a typical little big man hiding behind someone else”.
Mr Amar, 33, was found buried in a bag of sand in the back of a Mercedes Sprinter van in London Road, Sunningdale, on November 17, last year. Derek Johnston, 57, his sons Ben, 27, and Tom, 25, all from Pampisford, Cambs, and employee Shaun Matthews, 55, of Whittlesford, Cambs, all deny murder.
Derek Johnston told jurors they had taken hammers and building equipment to Tresanton in Hancock’s Mount, to build a pergola so Max could smoke outside.
Mr Johnston said Mr Amar threatened to “kneecap” Irish associates he believed had stolen electronics worth £10,000 and had punched him when he said to forget the loss.
He said: “Don’t you speak to me like that – you are **** dead, I am going to shoot you.”
Nigel Rumfitt QC, defending Derek Johnston, asked if he believed Mr Amar, and he replied: “I have never been in a fight before and as far as I was concerned he was going to shoot me.
“I grabbed one of the hammers and hit him on the side of the head with it. He kept coming straight at me as if I had not hit him but I had hit him hard. I hit him on the side of his head several times.”
Mr Rumfitt asked: “You accept that you are responsible for all the terrible injuries to the head.”
Derek Johnston replied: “I just lost my cool. I kept thinking that if I didn’t get the better of him he would end up shooting me. All I was interested in was defending myself. I did not mean to do it.”
Mr Johnston said his sons and Matthews were not involved in the fight. He said they had only been involved in the clean-up operation.
The court heard the Johnstons “fronted” for the fugitive Mr Amar after meeting him in London in November 2009.
The court heard that Mr Amar paid £1,000 a month to Vivek Trevedi to use his identity while on the run from prison where he was serving a sentence for firearms offences.
Mr Johnston claimed he did not know Mr Amar’s true identity until the start of the trial.
The prosecution claims Mr Amar was bludgeoned to death by the four men who had bought tools for the job before driving to Sunninghill, where they were apprehended by police.
The trial continues.