Glasgow & West Scotland

Convicted killer admits assault but denies Chhokar murder

Surjit Singh Chhokar Image copyright PA
Image caption Surjit Singh Chhokar

A convicted killer who is being blamed for the 1998 murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar has admitted assaulting the victim but denied stabbing him.

Andrew Coulter, 35, admitted in court he had served six years for killing another man in an unrelated attack.

He also admitted to hitting Mr Chhokar with a home-made bat on the night he died but denied fatally stabbing him.

Mr Coulter's uncle, Ronnie Coulter, 48, denies murdering Mr Chhokar. He has blamed his nephew and another man.

He has lodged a special defence blaming Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery over the death of Mr Chhokar in Overtown, North Lanarkshire, in November 1998.

Previous trials

The murder trial, at the High Court in Glasgow, has already heard that Ronnie Coulter, from Wishaw, was tried and acquitted of murdering 32-year-old Mr Chhokar in 1999.

His nephew Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery were tried and acquitted of the murder in 2000.

The court previously heard from Mr Chhokar's partner at the time of his death, 56-year-old Elizabeth Bryce.

She told the court that Andrew Coulter had broken into Mr Chhokar's flat in nearby Gowkthrapple and stolen and cashed a giro cheque for just over £100.

Mr Bryce said when she had raised the matter with Mr Coulter, he had replied: "If anything happens to me, Chhokar is getting it."

Andrew Coulter gave evidence on Monday as the trial entered its second week.

Before starting his evidence, judge Lord Matthews told Mr Coulter that he did not have to answer any questions that might incriminate him in Mr Chhokar's murder.

Mr Coulter told the court that he had killed a man, Patrick Kelly, by stabbing him in the leg on 11 September 1999.

He was originally charged with murder, but convicted of culpable homicide and sentenced to six years detention.

The witness also admitted being jailed for six months in 2006 for possession of a knife.

He said that on the day Mr Chhokar died, 4 November 1998, he was looking for money to buy alcohol.

'Getting it'

The witness said that he broke into a flat at Caplaw Tower, Gowkthrapple, which turned out to be Mr Chhokar's, and took a giro cheque he found there.

He told the court that he then cashed the cheque, after his uncle had forged Mr Chhokar's signature on it.

Later that day, Andrew Coulter said he had spoken to Ms Bryce, who had learned of the giro theft.

Mr Coulter said that when police involvement was mentioned, he told her that, if that happened, Mr Chhokar would be "getting it".

When asked by prosecutor Alex Prentice QC what that meant, Mr Coulter replied: "Battered".

Mr Coulter later admitted that he went to meet Mr Chhokar later that night amid the row over the stolen giro.

He said he was accompanied by his uncle, murder accused Ronnie Coulter, and David Montgomery.

The witness told the jury that he took a bat with him made out of an old table leg, which had been filled with lead and covered in tape.

He said: "I took the bat. If I couldn't talk to Chhokar, I was going to hit him with it."

The court has heard that before the three men set off to see Mr Chhokar there was discussion about what they were going to do to him.

When asked what this involved, Andrew Coulter answered: "Breaking his legs. I was trying to act the hard man."

Bat attack

Mr Coulter told the court that he, Ronnie Coulter and David Montgomery - known as Chez - arrived at Ms Bryce's house in Garrion Street, Overtown, at about 23:30.

They had driven to a nearby street and then climbed over the back fence into the garden of the house.

As Mr Chhokar arrived home from his shift at a local restaurant, the three men walked down the garden path towards him.

Andrew Coulter told the jury he told Mr Chhokar not to get the police involved and Mr Chhokar had swung a bottle at him.

He added: "He swung the bottle at me and missed me. I struck him with the bat on his arm."

Andrew Coulter said he then slipped and fell to the ground and his view of the street was impeded by the garden gate.

He added: "David went to pick me up and I did not see where Ronnie was."

Asked how Mr Chhokar appeared, Mr Coulter said: "He looked all right he didn't seem to be injured or nothing. He was walking. Liz Bryce came out shouting, and me and Chez ran."

He said the last time he saw his uncle, Ronnie Coulter, was seconds before he fell.

Andrew Coulter added: "Ronnie just disappeared."

'Just assault'

When asked what he thought had happened that night Andrew Coulter said: "Nothing. That was it. Just assault."

When asked if Mr Chhokar appeared injured in any way, he replied: "No. He didn't look as if he was injured in any way. I think I said to Chez that Chhokar would have a a sore arm in the morning with the bat."

Andrew Coulter told the jury: "I never stabbed him."

He also said that he never saw anyone else stab Mr Chhokar, saying: "I never even saw anyone hit him, bar me."

The witness also said that he did not see Ronnie Coulter or David Montgomery carrying any weapons.

Ronnie Coulter denies murdering Mr Chhokar by repeatedly attacking him with a knife or a similar weapon and a further charge of forging Mr Chhokar's signature on a £100 giro cheque.

He also denies breaking into Mr Chhokar's home at Caplaw Tower, Gowkthrapple, on the day of his death and stealing a cooker and attempting to defeat the ends of justice by destroying or disposing of a knife and clothing.

The trial before Lord Matthews continues.

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