Glasgow & West Scotland

The Chhokar family's wait for justice

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Media captionThe sister of Surjit Singh Chhokar says the family are 'relieved'

The Chhokar family have insisted the conviction of Ronnie Coulter will not be a cause for celebration.

It has taken almost 18 years for anyone to be found guilty of murdering Surjit Singh Chhokar in the Lanarkshire town of Overtown on 4 November 1998.

Two previous trials had resulted in three men, including Coulter, being acquitted of murder.

Coulter was convicted of assaulting Mr Chhokar at a 1999 trial in which he alone faced the murder charge.

He made a special defence of incrimination, blaming his nephew Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery for the killing.

Both men were subsequently charged with murder, but acquitted following a trail in November 2000.

Mr Chhokar's death took place after three men confronted him in the street at night, as he returned home from work.

He was stabbed three times. One of the wounds damaged his heart and he died from a massive loss of blood.

Mr Chhokar's sister Manjit Sengha has been speaking about how the family have coped with the most recent trial.

Image caption Surjit Singh Chhokar was stabbed three times in the chest with one of the blows piercing his heart, resulting in his death

She said: "It's not going to be a happy occasion for us. All we want is justice done for my brother and for my family. That's all we are looking for.

"The person who murdered my brother, we would like to see him behind the bars for the punishment he has done for his crime.

"That's all we want."

Ms Sengha said her family could feel no sense of triumph at the conclusion of the legal process.

She added: "There's no celebration, no happiness for us because we have lost a member of the family. All we are looking for is justice."

Controversial prosecution

The manner in which prosecutions were brought following Mr Chhokar's killing became highly controversial.

Lord McClusky, the judge at the first trial of Ronnie Coulter - at which Coulter blamed the two others for striking the fatal blows - was highly critical of the fact that only one man was in the dock.

He said: "For reasons that I cannot begin to understand, one, and only one of those persons was placed in the dock and charged with the crime.

"That is a matter which, to me, as a judge of considerable experience, passes my understanding altogether, I cannot begin to understand how it happened and I shall be taking steps to see if I can discover what the reason was for the course that was taken."

Image caption Ronnie Coulter was originally tried for the murder of Mr Chhokar in 1999
Image copyright Spindrift
Image caption Ronnie Coulter (left), his nephew Andew Coulter (centre) and David Montgomery (right) had all been previously tried for Mr Chokkar's murder

The then Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, replied in a statement: "It is a matter of regret that a judge of such experience should make such public pronouncements in ignorance of the background to the case.

"Such uninformed and ill-advised remarks do not serve the interests of justice and fail to appreciate the respective roles of the Lord Advocate and the Judiciary.

"Prosecution decisions fall within the independent exercise of the discretion of the Lord Advocate, who is not accountable to the High Court of Justiciary, or any of its judges, for such decisions.

"From the preliminary report given to me I am satisfied that the action taken in this case was the most appropriate in the circumstances and the reasons for it are sound."

Independent reports

Sir Anthony Campbell QC was asked to write an independent report into the prosecution's decisions leading to the original trail of Coulter, and the later trial of Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery.

Published in October 2001, Sir Anthony's report concluded all three men should have been indicted together.

Image caption Mr Chhokar was killed in Overtown on 4 November 1998

A separate report published at the same time, by Dr Raj Jandoo, found there was institutional racism evident in the police and prosecutor system.

Dr Jandoo said police failed to appreciate the impact a major crime would have on members of a vulnerable minority community.

The Crown Office indicted Ronnie Coulter for Mr Chhokar's murder in January 2015.

The move followed an application to the High Court for permission to raise a prosecution under double jeopardy laws.

The only previous case using the legislation was the prosecution of Angus Sinclair for the World's End murders.

Three trials

Manjit Sengha said the long delays had added to her family's suffering, and her father had died without seeing anyone brought to justice for his son's killing.

"It's been very hard for us, especially my mum and dad," she said.

"This is the third trial. My dad died waiting for this trial date to come.

"Sadly he couldn't make it and he died last year, almost a year before the trial."

Ms Sengha said all of the family had felt the stress.

She added: "It's been very scary as well because sometimes I said to my heart we are very scared.

"We are not the ones who have murdered somebody but even at night times we can't even sleep, worrying."

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