Deadly day when Orkney lost its innocence

In 1994, a Bangladeshi waiter was gunned down. Roger Dobson on a murder that haunts the islands
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It Stopped the life of a remote community in its tracks. It was the first murder on Orkney for 26 years and the most violent in its history. Three years on, it remains the only local killing never to be solved.

For many, 2 June 1994 was when the unwelcome side of 20th century life brutally burst in and Orkney lost its innocence.

On a warm evening in Kirkwall, Shamsudden Mahmood was about to serve 11-year-old Sarah Glue with her starter in Orkney's only Indian restaurant, the Mumutaz. Suddenly, the restaurant door burst open to reveal someone in a grey balaclava with tiny eye-holes. In the left hand, he - or she - carried a nine-millimetre automatic pistol, pointing down at the floor.

Diners thought it was a fancy-dress prank. Mahmood looked up and began to smile a greeting when the killer slowly raised the pistol to four or five inches from the waiter's head and squeezed the trigger. Part of the left side of Mahmood's head fell on to the table where the Glue family were sitting.

In the silence that followed, the killer turned and walked out of the door, still holding the gun, threatened no one else, said not one word, and then disappeared out of the front door and into one of the two alleys that run either side of the Mumutaz.

"I didn't think he was a bad guy at first," says Donald Glue, a garden centre owner. "I thought it was someone the waiter knew. When he held the gun up with two hands you thought it was going to go pop and a flag come out saying `bang'.

"In Orkney we don't expect real guns like that. But it didn't go pop and a split second after he fired, I thought `Christ, he's going to turn it on the kids'. The whole thing cannot have lasted more than 10 seconds."

Police quickly turned to the background and lifestyle of the dead man. What had attracted a Bangladeshi waiter to the northern fringe of Britain where there is little or no Asian community? What does a single young man alone in Orkney do when he is not working?

What emerged was a portrait of a very ordinary, decent man. The few Orkney people Mahmood came into contract with describe him as a happy-go-lucky character. Amanda Rosie, a taxi driver, said at the time of the killing: "He was never a boy friend, just a good friend. Like most young lads he liked going out for a drink. He was such a good natured person and full of fun. He was never a guy who would hurt anyone and he never spoke of any trouble."

The restaurant is now for sale. Bangladeshi waiters are reluctant to work there, and its owner wants to move south. Some locals want to believe it was a contract killing by someone from outside; that Mahmood was a gambler with debts, a drug dealer, the victim of a feud within the wider Bangladesh community, or a womaniser who got his comeuppance.

But many of the signs point to Mahmood's shooting as a racist killing. That, together with the uncomfortable knowledge that most people believe they know the identity of the killer, is something islanders may well have to learn to live with.