The Kirkcaldy assassination attempt that shocked the nation

Most locals simply knew Nikola Stedul as a quiet neighbour, but few people in the street knew of his international standing.
Most locals simply knew Nikola Stedul as a quiet neighbour, but few people in the street knew of his international standing.

It was like something out of a classic spy novel. An exiled world leader in hiding, shot by an international hitman who snuck into the country. And it all happened in Kirkcaldy.

Few people may know that the shooting on a suburban Kirkcaldy street even happened, let alone what it would reveal about ‘the quiet man living down the street’.

Long before the Russians thought of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, there was an even bigger assassination attempt on a world leader in a sleepy corner of Kirkcaldy.

The trial of the would-be killer was one of the most anticipated and explosive cases ever to hit Scotland.

On the morning of October 20, 1988, a man was gunned down on the town’s Glen Lyon Road as he walked his dog.

He was Nikola Stedul, known among the neighbourhood as a quiet well-spoken man with an Eastern European accent.

Glen Lyon Road in Kirkcaldy as it appears today. The site of an assassination attempt in 1988.

Glen Lyon Road in Kirkcaldy as it appears today. The site of an assassination attempt in 1988.

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• Who is Nikola Stedul

• “I was woken by bullets flying through my window”

• The forensic evidence in the gunman’s trial

How the Fife Free Press reported the attempted assassination of Nikolai Stedul in Kirkcaldy

How the Fife Free Press reported the attempted assassination of Nikolai Stedul in Kirkcaldy

• Where the guns were found discarded near Kirkcaldy

• The victim speaks: “Justice has caught up with a wanted assassin”

• How the Fife Free Press helped catch the gunman

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Fife Free Press reported on the trial.

Fife Free Press reported on the trial.

But the dramatic turn of events that was about to unfold would shake the whole country, and leave the people of Kirkcaldy astonished that they had an exiled world leader living nearby.

Nikola was just a few yards from his own front door when Vinko Sindicic – a former member of the Yugoslav spy school – drew up in a black Mini Metro, tasked with the state-sponsored murder of Nikola.

On the fateful morning at around 8.17am, Nikola spotted the car as he came to the end of his walk, and he would later tell the court the driver was leaning across the passenger seat “as if to open his window”.

“I thought he wanted to speak to me to ask for directions. I turned towards the car to see what he wanted,” said Nikola.

“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.”

Nikola told how, as he lay An the ground, the person in the car, whom he identified in court as the accused, Sindicic – fired four or five more shots, hitting him in various parts of the body.

“I thought I had not much time to live because I had seen some blood from my head – from my mouth I guess.

“I thought I was going to die, but I wanted to see my wife, just to tell her goodbye.

“I started to crawl for about two or three yards and then I had no power any more to go any further.”

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

At that point a neighbour appeared and help was summoned.

The police locked down the neighbourhood and set up a series of roadblocks around Kirkcaldy.

The realisation among the community, that gunplay and international espionage could take place on a quiet Fife street, was one of great shock and which brough a great many questions.

Who was this Croatian leader? Why was he living in Kirkcaldy? Who was he hiding from? Why had they tried to kill him?

Back when Yugoslavia was a single united country under communist rule, Nikola was a leading Croatian separatist.

Nikola had fled Croatia, to settle first in Australia and then, with his Kirkcaldy-born wife and two daughters, in Fife.

He became a powerful voice in exile, which made him a thorn in the side of the Yugoslavian government.

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 livingroom wall, and her son later found another bullet lying on the floor of her bedroom.

Nikola would spend weeks in hospital after the shooting and was left with a disabled foot. His voice had also changed because of the injuries.

Meanwhile the investigation moved at speed, with the dicsovery of two guns discarded at separate locations by the roadside.

Sindicic was caught soon afterwards at Heathrow Airport, as he waited to fly back home – in a bizarre twist, {https://www.fifetoday.co.uk/news/nikola-stedul-shooter-caught-due-to-fife-free-press-article-1-4816577 it was an article in the Fife Free Press which led to police catching Sindicic|Click here}.

A postal worker living nearby had read a story 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 went on trial at the High Court in Dunfermline, amid some of the tightest security measures ever seen in Scotland.

When he was initially flown back from Heathrow police marksmen were on site at the airport.

Police put in place a massive security cordon around court, checking the identities of everyone who entered.

Journalists were screened with metal detectors and thoroughly searched on the way into court, even seemingly innocent items like pocket calculators were confiscated.

Sindicic claimed that he’d been in Scotland to ask for Stedul’s help, and that he had been in Glen Lyon Road in the days leading up to the shooting but never got as far as making contact.

The court refused to believe the alibi given by Yugoslav diplomats in the UK, that Sindicic had been their guest at the time of the murder attempt.

Nor did they accept that he was in Edinburgh at the time on the phone to his mistress in Yugoslavia.

Sindicic was {https://www.fifetoday.co.uk/news/nikola-stedul-shooting-justice-is-done-says-man-shot-five-times-1-4816575 jailed for 15 years, and Nikola hailed the move|Click here}.

The whole incident was later dramatised in a 1994 film by STV; The Yugoslav Hitman.

These days Both Nikola Stedul and Vinko Sindicic occasionally pop-up on TV (separately), often in Eastern European countries as commentators or as part of documentaries on the security services.

Sindicic was even arrested this year in Spain, in relation to a trial over who killed a Croatian man in Munich in the 1980s.

But 30 years on, the quiet Kirkcaldy street of Glen Lyon Road shows no sign of the dramatic events which shook the country to its core.

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