Glasgow & West Scotland

Chhokar murder trial: Defence claims accused is 'scapegoat'

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

A man accused of murdering Surjit Singh Chhokar has been made a "scapegoat" for the killing, his QC has claimed.

Donald Findlay made the remark during his closing speech to the jury at the High Court in Glasgow, where his client, Ronnie Coulter, is on trial.

The 48-year-old, from Wishaw, denies murdering Mr Chhokar, 32, in Overtown, North Lanarkshire, on 4 November 1998.

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

The jury has already heard that Ronnie Coulter, his nephew Andrew and Mr Montgomery went to see Mr Chhokar on the night he died following a row over a £100 Giro cheque.

After an altercation, Mr Chhokar collapsed dying from stab wounds in front of his partner Liz Bryce.

'No justice'

The court has also heard how Ronnie Coulter was cleared of murder following a trial in 1999.

Andrew Coulter, who was convicted of stabbing and killing another man in 1999, and Mr Montgomery, were also cleared of Mr Chhokar's murder in 2000.

Both men have given evidence during the most recent trial and admitted being there on the night Mr Chhokar died, but they denied murder.

In his closing speech, Mr Findlay told jurors: "There is no justice if the wrong man is convicted and the man who did it is allowed to remain free."

He said: "People have rallied around Andrew Coulter and have lied at various stage, they have lied in this court, they have lied before you.

"They are trying to move the blame as much as they can onto Ronnie Coulter. They have their own agenda. Making Ronnie the killer at the expense of the real killer.

"Andrew Coulter killed Surjit Singh Chhokar. Ronnie Coulter didn't kill him. You should acquit Ronnie Coulter."

The QC described Andrew Coulter as "a young man who had a predilection for carrying knives".

He added: "We say he carried a knife that night, as he did when he killed Patrick Kelly."

'Wicked evidence'

Mr Findlay told the jury that Ronnie Coulter was prosecuted for the murder in 1999 and acquitted and was now being prosecuted again based on what he described as "wicked, self-serving and downright evil evidence".

He added: "It may be an attempt to bring closure to the Chhokar family. We never bring closure in these courts. You can't bring someone back to life, you can't take away the grief. It's not about closure, it's about justice."

As this was said several members of the Chhokar family, who had been sitting in the public gallery of the court, got up and left.

Earlier in his speech Mr Findlay accused many of the Crown witnesses of "lying".

He said Ronnie Coulter's sister Margaret Chisholm and former sister-in-law, Noreen McPolland, had lied "in a most evil and despicable way".

The QC also accused other witnesses of making up lies against Ronnie Coulter.

Mr Findlay said: "It is all very well for the Crown to say if they were going to invent something they would make a better job of it."

He added: "In the background there was this conspiracy that Ronnie was to be the scapegoat. There are examples of people making things up."

In his closing speech to the jury, judge Lord Mathews told the jurors to put aside all emotion when they finally retire to consider their verdict.

He told the jury: "You must consider the evidence coldly and dispassionately."

The judge added: "In order to convict Ronnie Coulter you must be convinced he used a knife and stabbed the deceased."

Lord Matthews will complete his charge to the jury on Monday.

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