Join me on my journey writing an episode: Season 9 Episode 15.
Inspiration for episodes can come from many places, but for the episode about the murder of Shamsuddin Mahmood it was a listener suggestion. Leonard had first messaged the podcast about the case back in October 2020. The case was one I’d heard of in the past and knew it sounded super interesting, so I added it to my list to cover on Leonard’s recommendation. But the list to cover is huge, and sometimes cases get forgotten… Luckily there were a few new aspects to the case recently which prompted Leonard to get back in touch, and it was the perfect time to cover it.
I knew that the case was not a simply open and shut one for a lot of people, so I decided to approach my writing with the question of Michael Ross’ guilt or innocence at the forefront of my mind. I didn’t really know how I felt about the case before I began writing, so I knew it would be a really interesting one for Mark to listen to and make up his mind. I also knew it would spark discussion with our listeners, and I was excited to find out what they thought too.
To begin my episode research and writing, I always start by finding news reports about the crime. In this instance, the majority of the news reports focussed on Ross’ recent attempt to escape jail. I had to really hunt down information about Shamsuddin!
When I write up an episode I like to find two or three sources for any facts about people, to ensure they are as truthful as possible, as we all know far too well that the media love to spin an angle to sell their papers. I found a few places that told me some information about Shamsuddin, or Shamol as he was known by his friends, and I began to write about him. As is often the case with miscarriages of justice (or in this case, potential miscarriages of justice) the person thought to have been wrongly accused is the main focus.
This was no different, there is a lot to be found out about Ross! Very little about Shamol.
But as we know from the show, the victim is super important to us and I wanted to ensure he wasn’t the afterthought that so many media reports make him into.
I felt like I needed to get a feel for the island, and the place where this case happened. This felt more important than in other episodes; we can easily imagine a large city or a town similar to the one we live in. Even some of the more remote places can be imagined. But this was something else, the time frame for police to get there for example, this blew my mind! So often places are “quiet” with ”no crime” but here was somewhere that you could state this was the first murder in 25 years.
After learning as much as I could about the initial case, I looked at the conviction of Michael Ross. I looked at the original news reports on the trial, and the evidence that was provided about his guilt. I always like to read sentencing remarks to get a feel for how the trial was positioned, and the judge’s summing up can give so much information about the case and trial. It is of course incredibly moving, as the victim is referred to and in this case it gave me more information about Shamol.
The judges remarks are always emotive, and to me they really evoke feelings of the judge shaming the person found guilty for their crimes.
But of course in this case there was the question of “was this a miscarriage of justice?” that I had in the back of my head.
My next stop was to find out more from Michael Ross’ supporters and to learn more about the reasons they bring for his innocence instead. It was here I began to doubt his conviction. I tried to put into my script the information that really stood out for me, but I always like to be as fair and balanced as possible when doing so, and I try to take information from more than one source. If there's only one place for information, I try to make it clear that this element isn't verified.
It is not our job as podcasters to investigate the crime and find the true killer, although we will often discuss our theories. We are just there to tell the story. Sometimes it is very simple, we know all the facts and the timeline, and we are just sharing what we know happened. But in other episodes, just like here, we are sharing the idea that things are not necessarily what they seem… and we like to encourage people to have an open mind.
This was an absolutely fascinating case to write up, as I genuinely didn’t know how I felt initially. I kept switching from guilty to innocent… I think oftentimes my default is to trust the justice system, the courts, the police and that only bad people are convicted. But we know this is not the case, we have seen this too often.
I hope you enjoyed listening to this episode, and I wonder if you have a firm idea in your head about whether Ross was guilty, or is innocent after all.
Thanks for reading!