Murder conviction for Iraq war hero ends 14-year mystery of Indian restaurant shooting

Cahal Milmo,Chief Reporter
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:10

To his comrades in the Black Watch, Sgt Michael Ross was nothing other than a hero. When his armoured vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, he put himself in danger to administer first aid before organising the evacuation of his wounded men. When a black soldier under his command died, he wept openly.

Yesterday, a different and horrifying side to the 29-year-old decorated soldier was revealed in Glasgow's High Court when a jury convicted him of murdering a Bangladeshi waiter by shooting him in the head in front of diners at a restaurant in the Orkneys, in 1994. Ross, who had hidden his face behind a balaclava or ski mask, was aged just 15.

Moments after the verdict was delivered, Ross tried to escape from the court, managing to run through a side door before he was wrestled to the ground by an official and handcuffed by police.

The conviction brings to an end the 14-year mystery of who killed Shamsuddin Mahmood, 26, at the Mumtaz restaurant in Kirkwall, the main town of the Orkney Islands with a population of 8,500. The murder was the first on the Orkneys for 25 years.

Evidence emerged during the six-week trial that Ross had been a gun-obsessed teenager who doodled Nazi imagery on a notebook and told a comrade in the Army cadets: "Blacks should be shot."

The soldier – who was a sniper with the Black Watch, now part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, when he was arrested in May last year – had denied the murder and claimed to have been in another part of Kirkwall when the killing took place on the evening of 2 June 1994.

Ross was convicted on a majority verdict and will be sentenced on 11 July.

Andrew Laing, the Procurator Fiscal for the Highlands and Islands, said: "This was a callous murder of an innocent young man who was well known and liked within the town.

"This cowardly act shocked not only the local community but people throughout Scotland."

Detectives from the Northern Constabulary were at a loss to explain why an assassin had entered the restaurant and calmly shot Mr Mahmood, who was saving to start a law degree.

In the hours after the killing, PC Eddie Ross, a former firearms specialist and special branch officer who once undertook royal protection duties, was asked to examine the bullet casing retrieved from the restaurant. He is also the father of Michael Ross.

Eddie Ross, who had served in the Army with the Royal Green Jackets before joining the police, concluded that none of the pistols on the Orkneys was capable of firing the bullet and none of the same ammunition, manufactured in India, was to be found on the islands. But he later told detectives he had a sealed box of the same ammunition.

What he failed to disclose was that he also had a second, open box of this type of bullets, which had disappeared. Eddie Ross was jailed for four years in 1997 after he was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice by failing to disclose this information.

Suspicion fell on Michael Ross when police searched the family home and recovered a notebook with swastikas scrawled across it and anti-English slogans.

Two witnesses also came forward to say they had seen the teenager in woodland two weeks before the shooting wearing a balaclava and clothing similar to that worn by the killer. Defence lawyers pointed to Ross's military record, calling several officers to describe his heroic actions in combat and care for those under his command.

Captain Alexander Ramsay, who described Ross as "one of the finest soldiers ... I've commanded", said: "He is a gentleman in the way he looks after his family and his soldiers."

It was only when a witness came forward claiming to have seen Ross in a public lavatory on the night of the shooting, carrying a gun and wearing a balaclava or ski mask, that a police cold case review team decided to arrest him.

Abul Shafuddin, Mr Mahmood's brother, said after the verdict: "Justice has been done. We are grateful to all who worked to bring the accused to trial."