Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Friday, 20 June 2008 11:54 UK

Dark cloud hanging over islanders

By Ken Banks
North East and Northern Isles reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Pc Eddie Ross, Shamsuddin Mahmood and Michael Ross
Eddie Ross, Shamsuddin Mahmood and Michael Ross became linked

The evening of 2 June, 1994, began like any other in the Orkney town of Kirkwall.

Families were enjoying a meal in the Mumutaz restaurant, served by staff including Shamsuddin Mahmood.

The shocking event which happened next has left a dark cloud hanging over the island's inhabitants ever since.

A gunman wearing a balaclava walked in and calmly shot the 26-year-old Bangladeshi-born waiter at point blank range in the head.

The culprit fled, leaving the victim dying amid a scene of horror.

It was the kind of crime that nobody ever thought could happen in Orkney and put the island in the national news headlines.

Among the diners was Donald Glue, who thought the weapon was a water pistol - and that Mr Mahmood was just going to be sprayed in the face.

Boy suspect

Mr Glue recalled: "The door opened and someone came in quite quickly. He stood by my seat, pulled up a gun quite quickly and meaningfully.

"He came over and stood at our table and I think I said something like: 'What the hell are you doing?'

"I thought that it was some kind of joke - I thought that it was going to be a water pistol to be sprayed on the waiter's face. Unfortunately not."

He said: "He had obviously had the gun in his hand when he came in. He held it about 2ft from the waiter's face and pulled the trigger.

"He immediately went out the door before the waiter had even fallen and he was gone.

"The side of his face was gone and my daughter was covered in what had been his face."

The murder was the first to happen in Orkney for a quarter of a century and sparked one of Northern Constabulary's biggest ever investigations.

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Police have released a scene of crime video of the murder scene, showing a bullet hole in the wall and a jacket on the ground covered by a sheet

More than 8,000 people would be interviewed, with people leaving the islands by ferry or plane in the days after the murder being questioned.

One of the first officers on the scene after the shooting had been Pc Eddie Ross, who stood guard outside.

However, his son, Michael Ross - just 15 at the time of the shooting - became a suspect.

Sgt Ross, who was then a corporal, assumed control, administering first aid to soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter and organising the evacuation of the wounded
Captain Alexander Ramsay
Army colleague and witness

In 1997 his father was jailed for four years for trying to defeat the ends of justice.

The charge was that he withheld information from investigating officers over ammunition he found in his own home. It resembled the cartridge used to kill the waiter.

He still maintains his innocence.

The murder remained unsolved, but a breakthrough in the case came when new witness Willie Grant came forward.

He claimed he saw who he believed may have been Michael Ross coming out of a cubicle in public toilets on the night of the shooting.

He said the person he saw had a gun and was wearing a balaclava or ski mask.

Ross had joined the Army Cadets when he was still at school and trained at the TA centre in Kirkwall.

'Finest soldier'

The trial at the High Court in Glasgow heard claims that he had made racist remarks in his younger days.

A woman who was in the Army Cadets with him claimed he had said: "Blacks should be shot and guns put to their heads."

He went on to join the regular Army and was recognised for his bravery in Iraq.

The court heard that Ross was commanding a Warrior armoured personnel carrier when it was hit by an improvised explosive device.

Four died in the blast and seven were injured in 2004.

Shamsuddin Mahmood
Murdered waiter Shamsuddin Mahmood was born in Bangladesh

Captain Alexander Ramsay told the trial that the soldiers were attacked by a suicide bomber in a car while they manned a checkpoint.

Cpt Ramsay said: "Sgt Ross, who was then a corporal, assumed control, administering first aid to soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter and organising the evacuation of the wounded.

"He also helped to rebuild the confidence of the soldiers which took quite a kicking."

Cpt Ramsay said that Ross treated all soldiers the same. He added that racism was not tolerated in the Army.

He described Ross as "one of the finest soldiers, if not the finest soldier, I've commanded".

He added: "He is a gentleman in the way he looks after his family and his soldiers."

'Pointless crime'

Another soldier who served in Iraq with him said he was like a "brother in arms".

L/Cpl Josafa Taroga, a Fijian, said Ross had been like a big brother to him after his cousin was killed.

He said he had never witnessed anything to suggest the accused was racist. He said: "I've always looked up to Michael, he is like a brother to me."

Northern Constabulary completed a cold case review of the killing, and Sgt Ross, who would become a Black Watch sniper, was then arrested in Northern Ireland in May, 2007.

He made no plea at Inverness Sheriff Court and was released on bail, pending the dramatic trial that ran for several weeks.

Unanswered question

However, no murder weapon was ever found, and the prosecution case was circumstantial and described as a giant jigsaw.

Advocate depute Brian McConnachie said in his closing speech it was a "savage, merciless and above all pointless" crime - a "cold-blooded assassination".

He told the jury: "If, as I ask you to, you return a guilty verdict then 14 years later Michael Ross will be called to account for what he did.

"It has taken a long time, but for Shamol Mahmood, his family and the people of Orkney to see justice done is better late than never."

The jury found Ross guilty.

However, the verdict still leaves the unanswered question of just exactly why waiter Shamsuddin Mahmood was selected for death.

The dark cloud remains over Orkney.


SEE ALSO
Killer runs after guilty verdict
20 Jun 08 |  North East/N Isles
Soldier denies 1994 Orkney murder
14 Mar 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Soldier charged over 1994 murder
23 May 07 |  North East/N Isles
Life for kicking man to death
15 Oct 01 |  Scotland

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