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Crown to apply for retrial of three men acquitted of Chhokar murder

Surjit Singh Chhokar was stabbed to death outside his home in Lanarkshire, on November 4, 1998.

Surjit Singh Chhokar family of murdered waiter with solicitor Amer Anwar on way to meeting with Lord Advocate. Pic from Broadcast.
STV

The Crown is to apply for a retrial of three men for the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar in 1998 after a meeting between the Lord Advocate and victim's family.

The family of murdered waiter Surjit Singh Chhokar met with Scotland’s top law officer to discuss new developments in the 15-year-old cold case on Friday.

Mr Chhokar was stabbed to death outside the home he shared with his girlfriend in Overtown, Lanarkshire, on November 4, 1998.

Three men were arrested but all were acquitted following two separate trials, leading to claims that the prosecution had been tainted by institutional racism.

The waiter's family, Mr Darshan Singh Chhokar, Mrs Gurdev Kaur along with his sister Mrs Manjit Sangha and their solicitor Aamer Anwar will arrive for a meeting with the Lord Advocate Frank Mullholland QC and Solicitor General- Lesley Thompson QC in Glasgow at 12pm.

It is understood the meeting was arranged to discuss the possibility that new evidence has come to light.

The Lord Advocate is to now apply to the courts for a retrial in the Chhokar case under the double jeopardy laws.

A statement from the Crown office and Procurator Fiscal Service on Friday said: "The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC has today applied to the High Court for authority under the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act 2011 to set aside the acquittal of Ronnie Coulter, Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery and prosecute them again for the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar.

"This is the second application to be made under the Double Jeopardy legislation. As proceedings are now live in terms of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, it would not be appropriate for the Crown to comment further."

Anwar said in a statement on behalf of Chhokar's family: "In January 2012 following the conviction of two men for the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the subsequent reform of the ‘Double Jeopardy Law’ in Scotland, I requested that the murder case of Surjit Singh Chhokar be reopened by Police Scotland.

"It was confirmed at a meeting between the Chhokar family and the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General that the Police would be asked to conduct a fresh investigation into the murder.

"Today the family were advised by the Lord Advocate that the Crown will make an application to the Appeal Court under Double Jeopardy legislation to bring fresh proceedings for murder against three men.

"There still remains significant legal hurdles to be overcome. Fifteen long years after Surjit was murdered, people may have forgotten his name but his family never gave up hope for justice.

"The Chhokar family are grateful to the Crown Office and Police Scotland for their determination and support. Today is an important step but the Chhokar family will only ever be at peace when there is justice. As proceedings are live it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Double jeopardy

Reform of Scotland's centuries-old double jeopardy law, which came into force at the end of 2011, means the men originally accused of the murder, who were all acquitted, could face a retrial.

David Montgomery, 37, was acquitted of Surjit’s fatal stabbing 15 years ago along with Andrew Coulter, 33, and Ronnie Coulter, 46.

Father-of-two Mr Chhokar was stabbed in the heart in 1998 in Overtown, Lanarkshire, outside the house he shared with his girlfriend Liz Bryce.

Car mechanic Ronnie Coulter, his nephew Andrew Coulter and their friend Mr Montgomery were charged with the murder.

In 1999, Ronnie Coulter was tried alone and acquitted after he blamed Montgomery and his nephew.

He was found guilty of a reduced charge of assault but was not jailed as he had spent time on remand. A separate trial in 2000 saw Andrew Coulter and Mr Montgomery walk free after they blamed Ronnie Coulter for the murder.

Two official inquiries were ordered in the wake of the original proceedings.

Following the publication of the reports in 2001, Colin Boyd QC, who was Lord Advocate at the time, said the Chhokar family had been failed by the police and prosecution services.

In 2012, the then Strathclyde police reopened the investigation into the death of Mr Chhokar more than a decade after the killing which led to accusations of "institutional racism".

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