FROM JOHN SMITHSON IN READING: A hammer-wielding Donegal Town man told a murder trial that he did kill his business partner – but only because he feared the father-of-three was going to shoot him.

Shaleem Amar, who was 33, died from massive head injuries after being battered repeatedly with hammers on November 17 last year.

Robert Johnston, known as Derek, admitted at his murder trial at Reading Crown Court that he hit Mr Amar many times with at least one hammer after the pair argued over money owed to their business.

Johnston’s sons and business partners Ben, 27, Tom, 25, and their employee Shaun Matthews, 56 – are also accused of murdering Mr Amar at a luxury home he was renting through them in Sunningdale, Berkshire.

Mr Amar was found in the back of a van, allegedly owned by the Donegal Town man, covered in sand.

Derek Johnston claimed he was at Mr Amar’s house with hammers to build a smoking room for the victim when, he claimed, Amar pulled out a gun.

“He was shouting that he was going to kill me and I was defending myself,” said Mr Johnston under questioning from defence lawyer Nigel Rumfitt QC.

Johnston said he grabbed a hammer from a Tesco bag on the work top after Mr Amar punched him and started to get his gun, shouting “you’re dead”.

“I was thinking if I don’t get the better of him he is going to end up shooting me.

“He said ’don’t you speak to me like that, you are f****** dead, I’m going to shoot you.”

Johnston said he hit Mr Amar repeatedly on the head with at least one hammer.

He said his son Ben broke up the fight, at which point Mr Amar fell to the ground and didn’t get up.

Johnston and Mr Amar were partners in a fraudulent business carrying out complicated paper trail VAT fraud, the court heard.

The company would claim VAT on goods it “sold” but that didn’t actually exist.

The two began to argue over Stg£10,000 owed to them by an Irish transport company to which Johnston had family links.

Mr Amar became agitated after Johnston senior called him a “typical little big man” for the way he was acting over the money.

Mr Amar was 5ft 3ins tall and sensitive about his height, the court heard.

The Johnston men and Matthews had gone to Mr Amar’s rented house to build him a smoking shelter so as not to cause complaints about smoking in the house as Mr Amar was due to hold a Christmas party.

The day before the murder, Johnston senior had travelled with Matthews to Ridgeons Building Merchants in Pampisford, Cambridgeshire, to buy the materials necessary to build the shelter.

The four then went to Mr Amar’s house the following day in a van and began to unload the equipment but were invited in for coffee.

Two split bags of sand were left in the car as the group went in for coffee.

It was soon after this that the argument between Mr Amar and Johnston had started.

After the fight, Derek Johnston said the four men decided to take Mr Amar to hospital as he was unconscious and bleeding profusely.

He, Matthews and his son Ben picked up the victim and put him in the back of the van.

Just as they were leaving the property Mr Amar’s wife arrived home.

Johnston senior told her Mr Amar had “gone to the airport to meet someone”.

Soon after leaving the property, the van was pulled over by police who thought the men may have carried out a burglary in the wealthy area.

The four men stepped out of the van, leaving Mr Amar in the back.

One of the officers spotted bloodstains and said they were arresting the men for assault.

At that point, Johnston senior ran away but only managed to get “about 10 yards” away before being caught.

“I just panicked, I realised the situation I was in and I panicked,” he said.

Mr Amar died at the scene and the four men were arrested on suspicion of murder.

Johnston senior, 57, told the jury his son Tom had no involvement in his business with Mr Amar.

Tom had recently moved back home to become a full-time carer for his mother, who had cancer.

The trial of Johnston senior, and his two sons, all from Pampisford, Cambridgeshire, and Matthews, from Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire, is expected to run until the end of next week.

Mr Martin Heslop QC, cross-examining for the prosecution, said it was Johnston’s plan to kill Mr Amar and take over the business.

Mr Heslop said: “If Mr Amar suddenly disappeared, you would be in the driving seat and you would be earning the big money.”

Derek Johnston continually denied that the four men parked their van as close to the gate to block access to the house.

Mr Heslop said this did not tally with the fact that Mr Amar’s wife had to get the men to move the van to let her into the property.

“Mr Johnston, you are telling lie upon lie upon lie,” he said.

The case continues. At hearing.

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