Michael Ross

Crime Files

“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." Witness, Donald Glue, Daily Telegraph, 15 May 2008

Michael Ross is born 28 August 1978 in the quiet Orkney community of Kirkwall. The small community of 8,500 people form the largest town on the Scottish islands where farming and fishing are the backbone of life. Ross has a passion for guns and the military from an early age – an interest he shares with his father, Eddie, who owns a large collection of firearms. Eddie Ross had been in the army and was now the island’s policeman.

As a boy Michael is a member of the local Army Cadets and regularly takes part in shooting exercises with firearms, including pistols.

7pm, 2 June 1994, Families are enjoying a meal out in the local Indian Restaurant, Mumutaz. A man wearing a balaclava calmly opens the door and strides up to waiter Shamsuddin Mahmood. He pulls out a gun. The adults and children eating in the popular restaurant see what is happening and believe it is a joke. Mr. Mahmood, who is working to save up the fees for a law course, has the gun aimed at his face and the trigger is pulled.

The gun goes off at point blank range. The 9mm bullet passes through his 26-year-old victim's skull and lodges in the wall behind. The masked assassin runs out through the front door with witnesses chasing after him. They back off when he stops and stares back at them. There is no motive for the killing. The only evidence is a 9mm bullet, which, unknown to the killer, was military ammunition supplied to the British Army in 1972 and extremely unusual. No one knows who the gun man is for another 14 years.

It would take an anonymous letter from a witness to identify Michael Ross at the scene of the crime. By then however, Michael Ross is married with two children and is a war hero after he is one of 12 soldiers decorated for outstanding service in Iraq in 2005. Ross is mentioned in dispatches for his bravery after suicide bombers in a car killed four soldiers and injured a further seven in North Babli. He is promoted to sergeant in the Black Watch sniper platoon.

The Investigation

"a cold-blooded assassination" Advocate Depute Brian McConnachie, BBC, 17 June 2008

It was the kind of crime that nobody ever thought could happen in Orkney and put the island in the national news headlines.Police investing the seemingly random killing – the first murder on the Orkneys for 25 years - are hampered by a lack of evidence, as well as by a member of the investigation team itself. Eddie Ross, Kirkwell policeman and Michael’s father, fails to tell his colleagues he owns a box of bullets of the type used in the shooting.

As the local firearms expert, Eddie Ross is given the task of checking all 9mm guns on the island but he concludes that none were capable of firing the bullet and nowhere could he find the same type of ammunition.A range of motives are examined for the murder - is it racially motivated, drug related, a crime of passion, or a contract killing?

The police have one other line of enquiry - the sighting on the afternoon of 19 May 1994 of a male in Papdale Woods, Kirkwall, wearing a balaclava and dressed similarly to the killer in the restaurant. A schoolgirl, Lynn Railston, and a friend, notice this individual crouching behind a wall by the wood as they walk home. When she reaches home she mentions it to her mother, Margaret Railston. They watch the individual from their home for about twenty five minutes. Lynn Railston watches him through binoculars.

They observe him removing some of his clothing, including the balaclava and a distinctively patterned white coloured T-shirt. The subsequent E-FIT bears a striking similarity to the killer as described by the witnesses in the restaurant.

On 8 September 1994 Lynn Railston sees the same male from the wood. She is able to point him out in the street and he is identified as15-year-old Michael Ross.

Investigating officer, DI Chisholm, interviews Michael several times over the following months, trying to pin-point his movements on the day of the murder.Michael’s explanation is that he is in the wood lying in wait for another youth, Jamie Weatherill, who, he had been told, had been physically abusing an ex-girlfriend of Michael’s. He was "going to give him a fright to...stop him from hurting her again". Jamie Weatherill had in the event not come that way that day. Michael admits to wearing a white top with blue and red stripes and a blue tracksuit top with a hood. He had disposed of the balaclava by putting a stone in it and throwing it into the sea.

After the end of exhausting rounds of interviews with Ross the evidence is purely circumstantial and no prosecution is instigated. The enquiry into the murder stalls.

All police can do is put Eddie Ross on trial in 1997 for attempting to pervert the course of justice by hiding his knowledge of the opened box of bullets in his home. He receives a four-year jail sentence after the ex-soldier who gave him the bullets comes forward to police.

But Eddie Ross is not the gunman.

The Aftermath

"This is one of the most desperately sad cases that I have ever encountered." Defence counsel Mr Findlay, BBC, 8 Dec 2008

Although Ross is sentenced to a minimum of 25 years after being found guilty he still claims to be innocent.In 2010 he begins an appeal on the grounds that the interviews conducted by the police when he was 15 were prejudiced. His legal team argue that police interviews, carried out without lawyers present when Ross was 15 and 16, were “unfair”.

It is claimed that the Crown’s actions, in relying upon the evidence obtained during the interviews, are incompatible with his human rights.The convicted killer’s legal team further argue that the trial judge “erred” by refusing to allow the defence to read evidence from a psychologist. But Scotland’s top judge, the Lord Justice General Lord Hamilton, who heard the case with Lords Carloway and Bonomy, upheld the conviction.

The 33-year-old could still go to the Supreme Court in London to appeal. He does so and loses in May 2012.

The Trial

"This was a vicious, evil, unprovoked murder of a defenceless man.” Lord Hardie, SKY News, 17 Oct 2008

In May 2008, the family of Shamsuddin Mahmood finally get to see a man on trial for his murder.

After six weeks of evidence the jury of five men and ten women find Ross guilty of murder by majority. He sits emotionless as the verdict is passed. He is also found guilty by majority of trying to defeat justice by dumping the murder weapon.

Detective Inspector Iain Smith, who led the team that apprehended Ross, said he had been convicted of "a shocking and sickening crime".

To his comrades in the Black Watch, Sgt Michael Ross is nothing other than a hero. In actual fact he is a cold blooded, racist murderer.After the hearing, Abul Shafiuddin, Mr Mahmood's brother, says,"The family feel happy with the verdict and happy with the performance of the Police. Justice has been done. We are grateful to all who worked to bring the accused to trial."T

heir barrister adds: "We lost all of our hope and felt this mystery would never be solved."

It is not the end of the drama, however.

As Ross is being led down to the cells after the verdict, he attempts to escape by jumping over the dock and running from the court. Ross is seconds away from escaping into the street when a court official manages to grab him and pin him to the ground.

Subsequently police discover a car parked in a Tesco car park near the court that Ross has hired to aid his escape. Frighteningly, in it are a cache of arms including a machine gun, rifle, grenades, knives, camouflage clothing, bullets and binoculars.

Witnesses at the time said it was like something you would expect from a Rambo movie. There is a possibility that he had a plan to make an escape and live on the survival skills he learned in the Army.

Police evacuate more than 1,000 shoppers and staff from the Tesco store and cordon off the area. Army bomb disposal experts then spend hours searching the vehicle for booby traps before it is removed.

Timeline

28 August 1978 Michael Ross born in Kirkwell, Orkney.

2 June 1994 Shamsuddin Mahmood is shot at point blank range in the restaurant where he works

1997 Ross’s father Eddie is jailed for four years for attempting to pervert the course of justice

2005 Ross is decorated by the Army for outstanding service in Iraq

2006 William Grant contacts police with crucial information regarding the movements of Ross on the night of the murder

2007 Ross’s father, Eddie Ross, is jailed for four years for perverting the course of justice

May 2007 Ross, based in Northern Ireland with the Black Watch, is arrested

March 2008 Ross denied murdering Shamsuddin Mahmood, at Glasgow High Court

20 June 2008 Ross found guilty of murder and is sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison

September 2010 Ross launches an appeal

May 2012 Ross loses his appeal

The Arrest

The case is cold and no break through happens until one day in 2006 police receive an anonymous letter. The writer explains that he saw Michael Ross in a Kirkwall public toilet just before the murder. The youngster was carrying a gun and had a balaclava on top of his head; he swears when he notices the witness looking at him.

Police discover that the witness is William Grant. He has kept silent for 12 years as he was too scared to speak out. But the knowledge and guilt weighs heavily on him until he decides to write to the police.

Police then find out that Michael Ross is now a hero - he has made a new life in the army and has no previous convictions. But because of the new crucial information and Grant as a witness, Michael Ross is finally arrested in May 2007 for the cold blooded murder committed 13 years before.