Chhokar murder accused fit to stand trial

Surjit Singh Chhokar. Picture: PA
Surjit Singh Chhokar. Picture: PA
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A man charged with murdering a waiter 16 years ago will be fit to stand trial, his lawyer has said.

Ronnie Coulter, 46, is accused of striking Surjit Singh Chhokar repeatedly on the body with a knife or similar instrument and murdering him in Garrion Street, Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, on November 4 1998.

He is also accused of pursuing Mr Chhokar, repeatedly punching him to the head and body and repeatedly striking him on the head and body with a wooden baton or similar instrument while acting along with two other men during the alleged incident.

At the last hearing at the High Court in Glasgow in March, questions were raised over whether he would be fit to stand trial.

Today, his lawyer, Donald Findlay QC, said he would be in a fit condition.

He told the court: “At the last hearing there was an issue as to Mr Coulter’s likely fitness to stand trial. It is now clear that he will be fit to stand trial at some point in time.”

He added: “It is abundantly clear that Mr Coulter has good days and bad days in terms of his mental health and has a significant problem in relation to concentration levels and short-term memory.”

Mr Findlay said this means preparing for trial will take longer and the trial itself is likely to take more time than anticipated as Coulter will have to be “managed in terms of following and understanding the trial”.

Coulter, from Wishaw, faces five charges.

It is alleged that he and another man broke into Mr Chhokar’s home in Caplaw Tower in Wishaw on November 4 1998 and stole a cooker, and that he forged the waiter’s signature, authorising another man to cash a giro cheque for £100.70.

Coulter is also accused of attempting to defeat the ends of justice by destroying or disposing of the knife allegedly used, and of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

He denies the charges.

Lord Turnbull fixed a further preliminary hearing for June 30, when the issue of a trial date may be discussed.

He said: “It has become clear that Mr Coulter’s mental health has recovered to the extent that he will be fit to stand trial but the consequences of his previous difficulty is such that it has not been possible to advance preparation for trial on his behalf.”