The Orkney Isles lie just off the top of the Scottish coast made up of seventy islands, most of which are still completely uninhabited. Beautiful hills and dramatic shorelines with crashing waves against jagged rocks are the highlights of this beautiful landscape and the reason many do choose to make it their home. Kirkwall is the largest town in Orkney and along with the rest of the small towns across the Islands; it enjoyed little crime and was considered a safe place to live and work. In 1994 however, this security was shattered with the bold and brutal murder of Bangladeshi waiter Shamsuddin Mahmood, the first murder in Orkney in 25 years and one with twists in the case until the very end.
On the 2 June 1994, Shamsuddin Mahmood was working at the Mumutaz Restaurant in Kirkwall when the door opened and a man dressed in black and wearing a balaclava walked in. He strode straight across the small restaurant that was full of families and couples out for dinner and walked up to Shamsuddin.
As the family he was serving looked on, the man raised a handgun and shot Shamsuddin Mahmood in the head from less than 2 feet away. The 9mm bullet passed through Shamsuddin’s skull killing him instantly with the bullet lodging in the wall behind him and the shell casing hitting the floor.
As Shamsuddin fell, the gunman looked at him briefly to ensure his job was done before turning and walking calmly out of the restaurant. As the diners looked around in horror, they realised their waiter had just been executed right in front of their eyes. They had no idea who the gunman was or if he was going to come back.
When detectives flew in from the city of Inverness to lead the investigation they were met with very little to go on. Shamsuddin Mahmood had visited Orkney a few years earlier and fell in love with the Isles, vowing to return. He had been living in Kirkwall for just a few months at the time he was murdered, working at the restaurant to save money for a law degree he hoped to take at university.
The gunman had carried out this murder in a busy restaurant full of witnesses but few could provide an accurate description and none had seen his face. Shamsuddin Mahmood was clearly the target but why anyone would want him dead was difficult to understand. Rumours were rife across the island, was Mahmood secretly into drugs or part of a gang? Was he having an affair with a woman whose partner decided to take action?
One piece of evidence they did have was the bullet that killed him. Tasked with trying to identify its origin was police constable Eddie Ross of Kirkwall police. With a history of serving in the military and working for the Special Branch and royal protection security, PC Ross was a good choice. He checked and tested every gun in Orkney trying to find a match but came up with nothing. What he did realise was that the bullet used was an unusual one and it was one that he recognised.
“He’d said there’d been a shooting, a 9mm pistol that had been used, and eh, the bullet was the same batch number as the bullets that I’d given him.”
Years before an old friend from his military days had given him some Army ammunition that after testing had been rejected for not being high enough quality. A handful of soldiers had taken the opportunity to pocket some of the boxes to take home with them.
Two months into the investigation, Eddie Ross told the investigation team he knew the bullet used in the shooting was the same ammunition and admitted he had a sealed unopened box of it at home, although at that time he didn’t give his colleagues the name of who had given it to him. His home was searched and the box found but at the same time, police discovered some disturbing material in his 15-year-old son Michael Ross’s bedroom.
Described as “doodled Nazi imagery”, notebooks with a swastika and SS symbol were found along with a black balaclava. Added to this his home contained a supply of the unique and rare bullets that were used in the shooting and Michael Ross was soon flagged as a person of interest in the case.
Following up on PC Ross’s claims of being given the ammunition, police eventually discovered this friend was James Spence and were surprised to learn that he, in fact, gave two boxes of ammunition to Eddie Ross, one sealed and one already open. Furthermore, Ross had approached James Spence and asked him to lie and not mention the opened box that had now mysteriously disappeared.
In 1997, three years after the shooting, Eddie Ross was jailed for 4 years on charges of perverting the course of justice and lost his job as a police officer as a result. His actions and his son being named as the prime suspect in the murder in his court paperwork only fuelled the rumours spreading rapidly around Orkney on who was responsible for this heinous murder. A father protecting his son was very much part of the whispers but what possible reason could a 15-year-old have to murder a local waiter?
Despite police suspicions, no further evidence could be found and the murder case of Shamsuddin Mahmood went cold. For 14 years the people of Orkney lived in the shadow of an unsolved murder carried out by a mystery gunman never really knowing if someone they knew, worked with or lived next door to was the person who pulled the trigger.
In an unexpected turn in the case, local man William Grant walked into Kirkwall Police Station in 2006 and told them he wanted to make a statement. In it he described the young boy he had met coming out of the public toilets on the night of the murder, a young boy with a balaclava and a gun. He had carried this information with him since that night afraid to come forward, but the guilt he said had become too much. The boy he saw was 15-year-old Michael Ross and his statement to that effect has resulted in threats and abuse from some of the local community.
The murder case was reopened and in May 2007 Michael Ross was arrested on suspicion of the murder of Shamsuddin Mahmood. At that time he was 26-years-old, married with two children and a sniper in the Black Watch Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. He had joined the Army straight out of school where he appears to have been an excellent soldier, earning commendations for his actions in Iraq and a promotion to Sergeant.
Ross, it appears, had also been seen by two witnesses running around the local woods, dressed all in black and wearing a balaclava back in 1994 just weeks before the murder, with his choice of clothes being very similar to how the gunman at the restaurant was dressed.
Michael Ross was charged with murder and in 2008 he went on trial at Glasgow’s High Court. With no forensic evidence and no murder weapon, the case against Ross remained circumstantial. At his trial, his defence called many in to testify of Ross’s solid and respected service in the military as a testament to his good character. No doubt very few of his fellow soldiers believed him guilty of this murder. The jury, however, felt differently and when they announced their guilty verdict, Ross made his move. He tried to escape from the court, jumping over the dock and making a run for the door. He was tackled to the ground by court guards ending his dramatic bid for freedom.
After Ross had been taken down to the cells, it was discovered that while he was on bail awaiting trial he had hired a car and parked it at a supermarket not far from the court. In it he had guns, ammunition, knives and camouflage gear along with camping equipment and money, all stashed in the boot. It was clear his intention was to run if he was found guilty but the weapons he had in the car prompted concern on what else he had been planning to do. Michael Ross was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years. “This was a vicious, evil, unprovoked murder of a defenceless man.” the judge told him at sentencing.
“The suggestion that I’m racist on adolescent scribbles and remarks is ridiculous and offensive to me. I did not kill Shamsuddin Mahmood and had nothing to do with his murder.”
Nine years on from his conviction, there is still support for Michael Ross with people who claim he is innocent of this murder. In 2014 Ross tried to have his conviction overturned based on a claim of a miscarriage of justice, which was rejected by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review due to lack of evidence with a final refusal to refer his case back to the Court of Appeal being issued in 2015.
Finally, Shamsuddin Mahmood and his family have justice for his shocking murder with Michael Ross behind bars. His motive police think was a racial one. A young Army cadet impressed with weapons and combat decided to take action and see what it was like to kill, with his drawings and scribbles suggesting he chose his target based on views involving Nazi racism. His Army career after the shooting has made many uneasy with some finding his good character, flawless record and heroic actions in service difficult to reconcile with a 15-year-old committing cold-blooded murder, but it appears, that is exactly what he did.