A COLD case detective today described the moment he learned a murder suspect on the run for nearly a decade was on a flight to Edinburgh.
Retired detective superintendent Bert Swanson received a late-night phone call telling him that Shafquat Saleem, 38, a fugitive suspected of killing her teenage brother in a fireraising attack, was en route from Paris.
Mr Swanson scrambled a team of officers to descend on the airport where Saleem was arrested on the newly-arrived plane as it sat on the tarmac.
The 60-year-old, who was in charge of the original murder inquiry before retiring to lead the force’s cold case team as a civilian, said he was caught off-guard by the “unexpected” news of the breakthrough he had waited for.
Saleem was yesterday imprisoned for 13 years following her conviction for the culpable homicide of 18-year-old Imran Saleem.
The teenager was killed after his sister set fire to the family home in Barn Park, Wester Hailes on June 14, 2001.
In the wake of the blaze, Saleem stole £34,000 from a post office in Raeburn Place, Stockbridge where she worked as sub-postmistress and fled with two other suspects to Cyprus.
In April 2011, French authorities issued an alert that Saleem had boarded a flight from Charles De Gaulle Airport and was on her way to the Capital.
Mr Swanson said: “I was at home when I received the call on my mobile. I was told that Saleem was on a flight from Paris. We had a couple of hours till she arrived. I organised for officers to go straight to the airport and board the plane.
“She was taken to St Leonard’s police station for questioning but there was no co-operation from her during the interview, no full and frank confession.
“I was surprised to suddenly get this call but not surprised that we had finally made an arrest. If we continue looking for someone, we always believe one day to get the opportunity to speak to them.”
During the trial, it emerged that the Saleem family had fallen out over a property in Belmont Gardens, Murrayfield.
Saleem’s parents, Mohammed Saleem, 64, wife Safia, 52, and their daughter, Mussart, 24, holding her one-year-old baby, escaped from the third-floor flat but Imran Saleem was trapped in the upstairs bedroom during the fire.
Mr Swanson added: “It was a very nasty one. Lit materials and petrol were put through the letterbox of a home where a large extended family was staying.”
After Saleem fled abroad, detectives were forced to play a waiting game to see if she could be brought back to the UK for prosecution.
Mr Swanson was listed as the official contact for foreign authorities in the event of a lead on Saleem’s whereabouts.
He added: “At the time we were very quickly aware that she had gone to northern Cyprus. We believe she went because it had no extradition treaty with the UK.
“We still don’t know why she decided to come back. She has failed to tell the truth from the very beginning.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Gill Imery, head of CID at Lothian and Borders Police, said: “This conviction sends out a strong message to families that the authorities will do everything possible to bring perpetrators to justice, irrespective of how much time has passed.”
Saleem had been charged with her brother’s murder but was found guilty of culpable homicide at a trial last month.
Warrants remain outstanding for the arrest of Rafadh Saleem and Tanveer Saleem, Shafquat Saleem’s older sister and younger brother.