The evil empire

EVEN within the tough inner-city environment of Glasgow's Shawlands Academy he had a reputation as the type of guy you didn't mess with. Baldy had a kind of presence around him - he commanded respect. He was bright enough and could have chosen any number of paths in life, but he was already heading down the wrong one. He often seemed about to fly off the handle, and other pupils were scared of him. He and his gang would take money or belongings off them, saying it was for "protection".

"Most of us just grew out of it, and got on with our lives and got jobs and married and so on, drifted away from it," says one former school friend. "But Baldy never did."

As all of Scotland now knows, Baldy - so named for his close-cropped hairstyle - was the street name of Imran Shahid, the 29-year-old second-generation Scots Asian thug who, along with his brother and close associates, moved on from Shawlands in Pollokshields to make a post-school career out of terrorising Glasgow's south side. Last week he was jailed, with members of his gang, for the brutal racist killing of 15-year-old white schoolboy Kriss Donald.

After a trial that shocked the nation, Shahid was sentenced to 25 years as the ringleader of a gang of five that abducted the boy in broad daylight from a Glasgow street before stabbing him 13 times and setting him alight while he was still alive.

Justice was done - as the victim's mother Angela made clear after the verdicts - but the case will now have wider repercussions for Scotland as a whole. It has raised serious questions about the policing of Glasgow's growing Asian communities, where disaffection and gang warfare have become part of life. And, again, it has exposed the failure of the Executive's early release policy.

Conceived to take pressure off the overburdened Scottish prison system, in this case it let loose a potential killer. Shahid and his associates murdered Kriss in 2004, three months after he was freed after serving just half of a two-and-a-half year sentence for a violent assault on a woman. As we reveal today, the Executive's supposed abolition of automatic early release in a bill to be put before parliament next week actually does nothing of the sort.

"We are glad to see justice in this case, but I worry that we are failing this generation," says Councillor Hanzala Malik, one of Glasgow's most prominent Muslims. Kriss's murder has shed light on what community leaders fear is becoming a lost generation of young Asian men, who feel alienated from their adopted society and have turned to crime in the vacuum. "Our young rebel against discipline and I genuinely believe we are being far too soft on our own community," says Malik.

Shahid, despite the backing of a successful Pakistani immigrant businessman father, did not serve his full time at Shawlands, where almost half the pupils are of Asian descent. After savagely beating a fellow pupil he was expelled in 1992 and, aged 15, transferred to Bellahouston Academy. At the same time, along with his younger brother Zeeshan - known as "Crazy" - he was becoming a key figure in the gangs of Asian youths that cruised areas such as Ibrox and Cessnock in cars before leaping out to attack random victims. These second generation Asians were embracing the gang culture of white Glasgow tradition.

By the age of 17, Shahid was serving his first jail sentence, for beating a man with a baseball bat so severely that he suffered brain damage. He fled to Pakistan and his extended family but when he returned he was arrested and sentenced to four and a half years for attempted murder.

In Barlinnie, he took to the gym and the world of bodybuilding, and began taking the steroids that would later heighten his aggression. He also developed contacts that would set himself and his brother on the road to a criminal career of dealing in heroin, cocaine and cannabis while running an extortion racket involving shopkeepers. Flush with cash, they later moved into credit-card fraud, bribing call centre workers both in Scotland and Pakistan into supplying credit card details.

All was done against a background of rival Asian gangs operating in Glasgow's south side. Between 1997 and 2003 Shahid was charged several times with assault to severe injury, mainly of rival drug dealers. When his sister's boyfriend failed to heed his warning to end the relationship, he had a finger cut off. When Zeeshan was beaten up by rival gangsters, he left a homemade bomb on the gang's territory.

Then in 2002, he was jailed again for punching a social worker, Margaret McGregor, after a road-rage incident. Released in December 2003, the following March he went out looking for violence again - he had been hit by a bottle thrown by a white youth the previous evening - and spotted Kriss walking with a friend along Albert Street in Pollokshields "They'll do," Shahid said.

By that point, Shahid and his network of associates - the 'Shielders' - were well-known to Strathclyde Police as one of around five Asian criminal gangs operating in the city's south side. But the police are now well-used to accusations that they have tacitly allowed the gangs to flourish because of the political, ethical and cultural difficulties of policing large Asian communities. The claims that Asian gangs have been treated with kid gloves, compared with the treatment dished out to their white counterparts, date back to the early 1990s when Shahid and others of his generation began rejecting the hard-working values of their law-abiding parents in favour of a more feral existence where money flowed from criminal enterprise.

The police officially deny any differences in approach. Tom Buchan, formerly a superintendent with Strathclyde, said: "Saying that we applied the law in different ways is daft. It's wrong. We weren't softly-softly, we were clever-clever. You don't take the same approach to a knife crackdown, for example, in Pollokshields as you would in Castlemilk. You take the ethnic and cultural issues into account, which is sensible, not going soft. For example, you have to be careful about being seen as just wading into an area, as you don't want the community to feel they are being targeted. There is a risk that they might not report racist crime against their own community if they feel that their community is being singled out."

However, some current officers insist there is a twin-track policy. One said: "There has been a growing problem of Asian gangs and they are a growing source of concern. But the policy has always been to play the whole thing down or else you're going to get the usual people complaining.

"Those same people will go to the media and accuse the police of being heavy-handed and racist. It's not that you receive a written directive from on high saying you 'must go soft and play things down' but you're just made to understand that you play things down. Of course, if they get up to anything really serious then we crack down on it the same as for anyone else. But as long as it's not so serious then they will get let off. For example, when it comes to moving them on or dispersing them, or aggression between the groups, you are always more likely to play it easy with them. Some of us feel that it seems to be one law for them while we're harder on others."

Responding to the growing problem of Pakistani and Bangladeshi gangs in Glasgow, and inspired by Operation Trident, the Metropolitan Police's campaign against 'black on black' crime in London, the Strathclyde force initially stepped up its campaign to crack down on Asian crime in the city after the Millennium in 2000.

But by 2003, it had abandoned an operation specifically targeting Asian gangs. At the time, police sources said the decision had been made at the highest level within the force amid fears that it would be deemed politically incorrect and heighten the belief that institutionalised racism existed within Scotland's largest police force.

Like a growing number of Muslim leaders, Mohammed Sarwar, the Pakistan-born MP for Glasgow Central, believes the reluctance of police to tackle ethnic criminals has effectively allowed gangs to operate with impunity in some areas of Scotland.

Yet the MP also warns that black and Asian communities are as much the victims of this criminal activity as white people and he wants police forces to use a zero-tolerance approach to smash the gangs.

"There has definitely been a perception that the police haven't tackled crime hard enough in Asian communities," Sarwar said. "Crime culture is a problem and it is a big challenge for us all. But the police should not have any reluctance to arrest people from Asian communities because they will be accused of racism. I have made it absolutely clear to the police that criminals are criminals."

As a whole, the MP said, the ethnic community of Pollokshields lives in peace with its neighbours. "But there is a growing problem of youth gangs, not just of young Asian men, but of white men and boys as well. They make life miserable for the people living around them. They have no respect for their elders, all they care about is gaining territorial control over each other."

According to Ayub Khan, chairman of the Glasgow-based Multi-Faith Coalition, an organisation that represents the views of young Muslims, a tougher stance against Asian crime is required. "We need a heavy-handed police approach because that is the only way to deal with the gangs that are running amok in places like Pollokshields. The softly, softly approach isn't working."

Asian leaders, however, concede police are not solely to blame. They admit the rise in violence and criminality by Asian youths is due to cultural changes. The first immigrants who came to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s wanted to make money and succeed, they said, but the younger generation is "picking up the bad habits that afflict society."

Individuals like the Shahid brothers found themselves cocooned within their own Asian communities and formed gangs in self-defence against what they perceived to be racist attacks. As they became more powerful, a descent into profitable criminal activity soon followed.

It was clear that they made a good living. There is no suggestion that Shahid's parents were involved in illegal activity but the brothers' lifestyle had not gone unnoticed. A neighbour who lives near Shahid's parents in the South Lanarkshire village of Law, remarked: "They [the brothers] always seemed to have a different car any time they came, and always something very upmarket, sporty, a Mercedes, or something very flash. You knew that they had money. They dressed like they had money. Not suits or ties, but very trendy, what the kids wear nowadays. Always very swish with the best labels."

On March 15, 2004, Kriss Donald was in the wrong place at the wrong time, yards from his own home and accompanied by a 19-year-old friend, Jamie Wallace. Friends describe Kriss as an "inoffensive, nice, nice guy" who was planning to join the army.

But neither of the slightly built teenagers was a match for the powerful Shahid and the four other thugs he had taken with him to find a white victim. Kicking and screaming in bewilderment, Kriss was bundled into the back of a stolen Mercedes while Wallace was able to escape.

Kriss was then taken on a terrifying 200-mile drive across Scotland while the gang decided what to do. Eventually, they settled on a deserted spot on the Clyde Walkway behind Celtic's training ground. The teenager was stabbed 13 times before petrol was poured on his body and he was set alight. The badly injured teenager's last moments were spent rolling around in the mud on the darkened river bank in an attempt to extinguish the flames. The gang drove off leaving him for dead.

Two of the men, Zahid Mohammed, and Daanish Zahid, a cousin of the Shahids, were arrested soon afterwards and charged with murder. Mohammed, 22, admitted a reduced charge of assault and was sentenced to five and a half years. He later gave evidence against Zahid, who was the first person in Scotland to be convicted of a racially motivated murder, and was given a life sentence.

True to form, the Shahid brothers fled to Pakistan along with another cousin, Mohammed Faisal Mustaq, the fifth man in the car. But they were eventually traced when they made mobile phone calls to associates back home in Scotland.

Sarwar also played a key role in returning them to justice, putting pressure on the Pakistani government to keep them under surveillance and eventually arrest them despite the lack of an extradition treaty between the UK and Pakistan. Attempts to bribe Pakistani officials to let them go failed and, unable to endure the conditions of Pakistani jails, the three killers asked to be returned home last year. They arrived back in Scotland in manacles.

Last week 28-year-old Zeeshan was jailed for 23 years and 27-year-old Mustaq for 22 - the final gang members imprisoned for what the judge called a "savage and barbaric" attack. They and ringleader Imran, with a 25-year sentence, will be well into middle age by the time of their release.

Firmer, more visible, policing aside, community leaders believe the white and Asian communities will have to work more closely together to prevent the Kriss case from being exploited by racists on both sides.

Bill Fraser, vice-chairman of Pollokshields Community Council, said: "Gangs have always been a feature of Glasgow, and in an area of the city which has a large Asian population, you will have Asian gangs, or maybe you call them gangs of people who are Asian. This community has come together and said an emphatic no to racism. Angela Donald took a stand against it, and the Asian community really rallied round."

Fears of a racist backlash after the trial have not materialised so far. On Friday night, as ever, two sides of the Scottish Asian community could be seen side by side. On Albert Drive, where Kriss was snatched, two men were hard at work reconstructing the interior of a shop even though it was approaching midnight.

A few yards away, two groups of teenage boys were confronting each other outside a kebab shop. A hard-revving white Honda Accord screamed past, carrying more young men to an unknown designation.

A mother's dignity

• "They'd stabbed him 13 times and set him on fire, but he made himself get up and keep walking to try to save himself. My God, he was brave. They were so much older than him but he was the only man among them."

• "We won't give in to bitterness. It is a pointless and destructive emotion. Now the trial is over we are hoping to get some sort of closure, despite our sorrow."

• "We are a Christian family. We know we will be reunited with Kriss again one day."

Kriss's mother Angela Donald speaking about coping with her grief

• "We often go up there. It is where Kriss's spirit left the earth and it is very peaceful and tranquil. We sit quietly and feel Kriss's presence around us, and it makes us all feel a little bit better."

Kriss's mother referring to the memorial bench (above) engraved with Kriss's name has been placed by the Clyde, near where he died