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Chhokar family says 'justice done' as man found guilty of 1998 waiter murder

Published 05/10/2016

Surjit Singh Chhokar was murdered more than 17 years ago
Surjit Singh Chhokar was murdered more than 17 years ago

The family of a murdered waiter have thanked supporters after his killer was convicted following a 17-year fight for justice.

Ronnie Coulter was found guilty of murdering Surjit Singh Chhokar in a retrial under double jeopardy laws.

Coulter, 48, was convicted by a majority of stabbing the 32-year-old as he returned from work in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, on November 4 1998.

Following the verdict, the Chhokar family said in a statement it was "not a a cause for celebration but relief that finally justice has been done".

The jury took about 10 hours over three days to find Coulter, of Overtown, Wishaw, guilty following a four-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

A string of further charges, including an accusation that Coulter forged Mr Chhokar's signature on a £100 giro cheque on the day of his death, were dropped during the trial.

Coulter denied the charges and blamed his nephew Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery for the murder. Giving evidence, the pair admitted being present at the scene but denied murder.

Ronnie Coulter's sister Margaret Chisholm told the court he told her he had got away with the perfect murder.

The case is the second to be retried after Scotland's centuries-old double jeopardy law was reformed in 2011, enabling the conviction of World's End killer Angus Sinclair in 2014.

Coulter was previously acquitted when he stood trial in 1999 and Andrew Coulter and Mr Montgomery were also acquitted the following year after a subsequent trial.

Two official inquiries were ordered after the original trials over Mr Chhokar's death. One made allegations of ''institutional racism''.

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

In his last interview before his death in November 2015, Mr Chhokar's father Darshan said his only wish was that those responsible for his son's death "face justice".

The family's lawyer, Aamer Anwar, who began campaigning for justice for the family as a law student, read a statement on their behalf outside the High Court on Wednesday.

He said: "There is real sorrow that Mr Chhokar is not here to see justice but I hope that both he and Surjit are now finally at peace.

"Today's verdict is not a cause for celebration but relief that finally justice has been done.

"For any parent the loss of a child shatters the soul, but no-one can imagine the devastating toll on a family having to campaign for justice for nearly 18 years, but did Surjit's killers really think his life was so cheap that his family would just walk away?

"At the end of the second trial in 2000, I stood on the steps of this court accusing our justice system of acting like a 'gentleman's colonial club', of being 'arrogant, unaccountable and institutionally racist', but today the Chhokar family want to thank the prosecutors, Crown Office and Police Scotland for their unwavering commitment to justice. They have shown themselves at their finest.

"Surjit was a loving son, father and brother who was lucky to have two stubborn parents who refused to be silenced as they fought for justice as a right and not a privilege."

He said the family have " placed victim's rights at the heart of a modern criminal justice system, which will be their legacy for generations to come".

The family thanked supporters including the former Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and former Solicitor General Lesley Thomson for agreeing to reopen the case.

Detective Chief Superintendent Clark Cuzen praised the strength of the Chhokar family.

He said : "If Darshan Singh Chhokar was alive today, I can only imagine his feelings at seeing justice being served.

"It is important to recognise the tireless campaigning for justice over the years by the Chhokar family and their lawyer, Aamer Anwar. I hope they can take some comfort from today's verdict.

"Whilst we were unable to find evidence of racial motivation at the time of the murder, there was evidence to support the fact that Ronnie Coulter described Surjit using racist terms when confessing to the murder."

Coulter will be sentenced on October 31.

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