Glasgow & West Scotland

Judge's warning after Chhokar murder trial juror 'approached'

Surjit Singh Chhokar Image copyright PA
Image caption Surjit Singh Chhokar died in 1998

The judge in the Surjit Singh Chhokar murder trial has warned anyone against approaching jurors after one was spoken to about the case while on a bus.

A woman, who is believed to have been watching the trial from the public benches, gave her views on the legal profession to the jury member.

Judge Lord Matthews said this had delayed the trial and similar acts would attract "serious consequences".

Ronnie Coulter, 48, denies the murder in 1998 and has blamed two other men.

The approach to the juror was revealed by trial judge Lord Matthews after proceedings began on Thursday.

'Most unwelcome'

The judge told the High Court in Glasgow: "A member of the public approached one of the jurors on a bus and gave her views on lawyers. This kind of thing is most unwelcome. Members of the public should not approach jurors.

"This has caused this trial to be delayed and instead of starting at 10am it started at 11.20am.

"The knock-on effect is that the witness - an important witness - will not be finished his evidence now until Monday, as the court is not sitting on Friday."

Addressing himself to those sitting in the public benches of the court, Lord Matthews added: "This must not happen again or serious consequences may ensue."

When the trial finally started, witness David Montgomery gave evidence for a second day.

Ronnie Coulter, 48, from Wishaw, denies murdering Surjit Singh Chhokar in Garrion Street, Overtown, North Lanarkshire, on 4 November 1998 by stabbing him.

He has lodged a special defence blaming his nephew Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery.

Mr Montgomery has told the court that he drove Ronnie Coulter and his nephew to Garrion Street that night and saw Ronnie Coulter appear to punch Mr Chhokar three or four times and Andrew Coulter hit him with a bat.

He said he thought of hitting Mr Chhokar, but decided not to.

The three men had gone to see the 32-year-old following a row over a stolen £100 Giro cheque.

'Cock and bull story'

Prosecutor Alex Prentice QC asked Mr Montgomery if he remembered receiving a phone call from Andrew Coulter in the early hours of 5 November 1998, and he said he did not.

He was taken to a transcript from a trial in 2000 when he was acquitted of Mr Chhokar's murder and Mr Prentice asked: "Did you say; 'He said Ronnie's went and stabbed him."

Mr Montgomery, 39, from Motherwell, replied: "I still don't recall that phone call, sorry."

However, he admitted that he had made the comments under oath in court and was telling the truth.

The witness was asked about his part in the incidents that night and said: "I was present at the event, not a participant. In my mind it is only presence."

Mr Prentice said: "You said you intended to punch Chhokar but did not, it would be reasonable to suggest he thought he was under attack by three men," and Mr Montgomery responded: "I don't agree."

Mr Montgomery was then taken to a statement he made to police just days after Mr Chhokar's death in which he claimed he had been in Overtown that night to see a man called Kevin about buying counterfeit cigarettes.

Mr Prentice said: "This was a cock and bull story. You were lying to the police," and Mr Montgomery replied: "I was avoiding the truth."

The prosecutor added: "The police are investigating the death of a man and you give false information to them," and the witness replied: "Yes, to begin with."

'Glib and cynical'

Under cross-examination, defence QC Donald Findlay spoke of the alleged phone conversation between Andrew Coulter and Mr Montgomery after Mr Chhokar's death and said there were a number of ways of looking at it.

Mr Findlay said: "Andrew Coulter knew that Chhokar had been stabbed," and Mr Montgomery replied: "Yes."

The QC then said: "One conclusion is that someone told Andrew Coulter that Chhokar had been stabbed and another is that Andrew Coulter knew Chhokar had been stabbed because he did the stabbing," and Mr Hamilton replied: "Andrew Coulter came home with me and he had not stabbed him."

The QC called Mr Montgomery "glib, cynical and self serving" and added: "You said you were shocked and gutted when you heard Chhokar was dead.

"You did not express one word of remorse or sorrow for Chhokar or his family," and Mr Montgomery replied: "At that time no."

Ronnie Coulter denies all the charges against him.

The trial continues.

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