Detective Superintendent Elliot McKenzie had made the eight-hour return flight from Pakistan twice before. This time, though, he stood. It had been 18 months since he took a call telling him that the body of a young boy had been found down by the Clyde. Now, three of the men who’d bundled the 15-year-old into a Mercedes in Pollokshields before stabbing him 13 times, dousing him with petrol and setting him alight, were sitting in handcuffs, each flanked by three of his colleagues from Strathclyde Police. “I basically stood and faced them and watched them,” recalls McKenzie, who had put off retirement to see the investigation out. “[It was] quite alarming their attitude at that time in terms of not getting a grasp of the seriousness of the situation, showed absolutely no remorse, not even an iota of remorse.”
Last Saturday marked eight years to the day since the three – Faisal Mushtaq, Zeeshan Shahid, and his brother Imran Shahid – were jailed for life for the racially-aggravated abduction and murder of white Glasgow teenager Kriss Donald. “This murder consisted of the premeditated, cold-blooded execution of your victim… it truly was an abomination,” Lord Uist said as he passed sentence. Forensics had found blood splatter at the secluded Clyde Walkway where Kriss had been taken after a four-hour car journey across central Scotland. “Most concerning at that point was they were able to identify what they believed were his buttock compressions in a log that was charred,” says McKenzie. “In other words, the log is black and there’s two compressions where it was put forward that, perhaps, that’s where Kriss was sitting when he was set on fire. That was particularly alarming, obviously.”
In the immediate aftermath, attention turned to addressing public concern amid, what McKenzie admits, was a “total lack of confidence” in the police among the Pakistani community in Pollokshields. About 60 members of the media turned up at the gym hall in London Road the next morning where McKenzie was under strict instruction from the fiscal service not to comment on whether the crime had been racially motivated. “That was clear and we tried to portray that to them all,” he says. “I think it lasted three questions and then it was straight into, ‘is this racially motivated?’”
Kriss’s family throughout all of this remained “extremely mature” in the face of “inducements” from a number of newspapers to politicise things, adds McKenzie, claiming that on one occasion a photo of Kriss was even stolen from his mum Angela’s house by reporters masquerading as police officers. “She totally refused to politicise the investigation, she just said, ‘I don’t care what colour or creed they are, they’re just animals for what they did to my son, end of’. That was brilliant from our point of view – that took a lot of heat out of what could have been a really nasty situation.”
Despite a wealth of disinformation, which McKenzie believes could largely be traced back to the criminals themselves trying to slow police down, the car used in the abduction was soon found, burnt out, though still containing one of Kriss’s shoes and a leather jacket with Imran Shahid’s DNA on it. Arrest warrants were granted and two of the five who abducted Kriss – Daanish Zahid and Zahid Mohammed – were soon in custody. Daily raids saw police recover an “inexplicable” number of firearms and drugs, though it soon became clear that three of the men they were looking for had fled to Pakistan, a country that the UK then – and to this day – does not have an extradition treaty with.
Britain’s first Muslim MP, Mohammad Sarwar, then representing Glasgow Central, stepped in, without whom McKenzie believes Kriss’s killers would never have been brought back. “Home Office weren’t keen because they were negotiating a full-time extradition treaty and thought this might adversely affect it,” he adds. “A very pertinent moment for the investigation was [when] Sarwar brokered a meeting with all stakeholders down at the House of Commons. That lasted all day and at the end of it, to their great credit, the Scottish Government rep [and] the Crown office rep said to me, ‘if you’re happy to go with this, if you think you can find them, we’ll do this’, despite Home Office saying, really, ‘we would be grateful if you wouldn’t do this’. That was a defining moment and I’ve got to take my hat off to them because they would have made a mockery of Scottish justice if we hadn’t gone for this. And they would have made a mockery of Scottish justice – they would have taken great pleasure in doing that.”
Sarwar opened all the doors as McKenzie flew out to Pakistan for what would be the first of three trips. Only then did he discover that Interpol had wrongly directed authorities not to look for them until further notice. An oversight? “Yes, probably,” he says, altogether unconvinced. The trio were arrested three weeks later and McKenzie was given a personal assurance that Pakistan’s otherwise unreliable prison system would neither lose nor let them go. Paperwork was signed off on his return visit as the three enjoyed “quite a comfortable stay” in prison, having access to computer consoles and laptops in their cells while later bragging of pizza deliveries, all of which McKenzie could live with if it avoided a human rights challenge.
Eight officers followed him and his detective inspector over a couple of weeks later to supervise their return to Scotland. “As soon as they got on [the aircraft], for our own safety and for the passengers’ safety, I organised strip searches of them individually. Every single one of them had prohibited articles on them: drugs, other bits and bobs, lighters, things that we just wouldn’t tolerate. I’m glad we did that; that was the real seizure of control. They tried to rock that control a few times, one must have went to the bathroom about over a dozen times in the first hour, trying to test our security and our system, but we doggedly saw it out.”
In fact, the pilot on the flight to Heathrow was a Scot who had heard of the case and cleared handcuffs for use in flight. “They didn’t seem to have an appreciation of the seriousness of it all,” says McKenzie. “One read a car magazine and was planning to buy a car when he got home. Baldy [Imran Shahid] just sat and contemplated, didn’t give us any grief. Beck [Mushtaq], he was an absolute pain in the backside, constantly trying to test us, constantly wanting to move.”
One short-haul flight later, they touched down in Glasgow. “I think they were thinking they were like celebrities when they came back. However, airside, we put them all into prison vans. When we stopped just leaving the restricted airside zone, they were parked outside the taxi offices and that was the start of it. These taxi drivers gave them absolute pelters, vile pelters, they were on the roof of the taxi office and there was a bit of a security issue but I’d arranged for a significant security presence. And I think that’s when it first hit them, when we were sitting there, there were motorcycles, traffic cars, a helicopter, the whole shebang, and I could see Baldy, it was beginning to sink in then.”
A year later, the three would go on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh. “We had two of Scotland’s most respected lawyers defending. It was a tough trial [with] some of the things that were being levelled at us, so I suppose there was a bit of apprehension. For me, there was apprehension because I thought if one of these five – already two had been convicted – if one of these five gets a not proven, I’ve failed. That was the way I was looking at it.” A couple of McKenzie’s detectives would later break down in tears when guilty verdicts were returned across the board, an understandable reaction, he feels, given their longstanding commitment to the case as well as the “monstrous job” taken on by prosecutors.
“That, as far as I know, is still the only racially motivated murder conviction in Scotland, so the racial element came out in court and that’s what they were convicted of,” he adds. “But during the investigation it was great to keep that away from it. Would it happen now? Course it could happen tonight. I don’t think anything has changed that dramatically. I would love to sit here and say Kriss has not died in vain, that this will never happen again, but we’ve already got second and third generations of the same families in the same area doing the same things [in terms of wider criminal activity] and that’s not to detract from the efforts the police are making to try and stop that. But yeah, I think it could happen again, definitely.
"Improvements in the community? I think there have been. Through that and the convictions, I would like to think that the legacy of that investigation was that certainly the business community, and some of the senior figures in the Pakistani community, had much more respect for the police. One, we didn’t let it go. Two, dogged determination. Three, we got justice.”