Nikola Stedul, the target of political assassination bid in Kirkcaldy, dies aged 84

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Nikola Stedul, the man who was the target of an attempted political assassination over 30 years ago in a quiet cul de sac in Kirkcaldy, has died at the age of 84.He passed away in March, his family have confirmed.

He was living in exile in the Fife town when he was gunned down by a Yugoslavian hit man, Vinko Sindic, who was sent to Scotland to murder him.

He shot him five times, but , miraculously, Mr Stedul survived..

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The assassination bid sparked one of Scotland’s most explosive court cases, and was later dramatised in a 1994 film, The Yugoslav Hitman, by STV.

Exiled Croatian leader Nikola Stedul speaking at a press conference in May 1989Exiled Croatian leader Nikola Stedul speaking at a press conference in May 1989
Exiled Croatian leader Nikola Stedul speaking at a press conference in May 1989

Mr Stedul, who raised his family in Kirkcaldy, returned to Croatia where he dedicated his life to campaigning for independence.

His daughter Monika wrote: “My father drew his last breath in his beloved Croatia, but he always retained his love for Scotland, the land that had given him refuge for almost 20 years, and a special place in his heart was reserved for Kirkcaldy.

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“He had an abiding love for Scotland’s people. He learned to speak English fluently, although after living in Australia, it took him a while to attune his ear to the formidable Fife accent.

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Exiled Croatian leader Nikola Stedul with his wife and daughters at a press conference in May 1989 after the sentencing of his would-be assassin.Exiled Croatian leader Nikola Stedul with his wife and daughters at a press conference in May 1989 after the sentencing of his would-be assassin.
Exiled Croatian leader Nikola Stedul with his wife and daughters at a press conference in May 1989 after the sentencing of his would-be assassin.

“In 18 years of living and working in Scotland he never experienced a single act of racist hostility or abuse -nor did that fact surprise him.

“He had always lived by the philosophy of: “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s Bairns”, a phrase he was delighted to learn from my great granny in Kirkcaldy, and in his experience most ordinary decent folk felt the same.”

Few people in Kirkcaldy knew of Mr Stedul’s remarkable back story as an exiled world leader.

When Yugoslavia was a single united country under communist rule, he was a leading Croatian separatist.

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Fife Free Press - report on 1988 attempted assassinationFife Free Press - report on 1988 attempted assassination
Fife Free Press - report on 1988 attempted assassination

He fled Croatia, to settle first in Australia and then, with his Kirkcaldy-born wife and two daughters, in Fife, where he became a powerful voice in exile, which made him a thorn in the side of the Yugoslavian government.

The assassination attempt shocked the nation.

On the morning of October 20, 1988, Mr Stedul was walking his dog when he was gunned down on Glen Lyon Road.

The would-be assassin – a former member of the Yugoslav spy school – drew up in a black Mini Metro and shot at him at point blank range.

Mr Stedul recalled: “ I turned towards the car to see what he wanted. At that moment his hand lifted. I saw a gun. There were two flashes from a silencer and very little sound.

“I didn’t realise I was hit until I fell to the ground.”

As he fell, Sindicic fired four or five more shots.

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Despite having one bullet enter his mouth and smash his teeth, and with a second lodged in his chest, Mr Stedul survived, thanks to his alsatian Pasha, which thwarted the hit by barking at the assassin, who sped away.

Sindicic, a notorious assassin linked with a number of killings across Europe, had come to Britain using a fake passport, hiding in amongst ordinary Yugoslav football fans gearing up for a World Cup Qualifier at Hampden.

After the shooting, forensics combed the area, finding bloodstains in the street, fragments of teeth, and bullet holes through windows.

A nearby house had two windows broken. A woman found a bullet embedded in her living room wall, and her son later found another bullet lying on the floor of her bedroom.

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Mr Stedul spent weeks in hospital, and was left with a disabled foot. His voice had also changed because of the injuries.

Sindicic was caught soon afterwards at Heathrow Airport, as he waited to fly back home - thanks in part to a sharp-eyed Kirkcaldy resident.

A postal worker living nearby had read a story in the Fife Free Press about a series of break-ins in the area, and so he took down the number plate of a suspicious man sat waiting in a black Mini Metro - he was later identified as Sindicic.

Sindicic was jailed for 15 years after trial at the High Court in Dunfermline, amid some of the tightest security measures ever seen in Scotland.

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Monika Stedul said: “Until his last dying breath my father was determined to finish the work to which he had devoted his life; to secure freedom and justice for a land, its people and his family, all of which he so dearly cherished. There is much work still to do.”