Call to re-open case of murdered waiter

PROSECUTORS are facing growing calls to re-investigate the murder of an Asian father-of-two following the sentencing of two men for the racist killing of Stephen Lawrence.

Scottish politicians joined Graeme Pearson, a former assistant chief constable at Strathclyde and a senior officer in the Surjit Singh Chhokar murder inquiry, in calling for the case to be re-opened. Pearson, now an MSP, has described the case as “unfinished business”.

Humza Yousaf, SNP MSP and justice committee member, said: “The SNP’s reform of double jeopardy laws means it is now possible for a retrial in the case of Surjit Singh Chhokar, and the Stephen Lawrence case shows the impact new evidence and new technology can have in delivering justice. I have spoken to the lawyer for the family and I would welcome any further investigation.

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“Justice is still to be delivered for Surjit Singh Chhokar and I would urge the Crown Office to revisit the case.”

Lewis Macdonald MSP, Scottish Labour justice spokesman, added: “There seems to be good grounds for saying this case should be re-examined.

“There needs to be some element of fresh evidence to provide the hook – forensic science may well give us that.

“There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that this would be worth another look.”

Chhokar, 32, a waiter, was stabbed to death in Overton, Lanarkshire, in 1998 after a confrontation with a group of white men.

Ronnie Coulter, 43, was initially charged with murder, but acquitted following a high court trial.

In court, he blamed his cousin Andrew Coulter, 30, and another man David Montgomery, 34, who both stood trial in 2000 but were also cleared.

Ronnie Coulter was later jailed for two years for lying in the witness box.

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Chhokar’s mother Gurdev and father Darshan, who has since fallen seriously ill, have criticised the police investigation, including the decision not to treat it as a racist crime.

After two inquiries into the investigation, then Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC apologised for the “incompetence, ignorance and institutional racism” in the way police and prosecutors handled the case. Last year, the Scottish Government passed its own double jeopardy law so suspects could be tried twice for the same crime.

It was under UK double jeopardy laws that the 1993 racist killing of Lawrence was re-investigated, and Gary Dobson, 35, and David Norris, 34, were found guilty of murder and sentenced to 15 years and two months, and 14 years and three months respectively.

The Chhokar family’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said he plans to write to the Lord Advocate next week to argue the case for a fresh investigation.

“The Chhokar case has been an open running sore within the criminal justice system, for the Asian community and black community, and particularly for Mr and Mrs Chhokar and their family,” he said.

However, Anwar was critical that it took the Lawrence verdicts to spark calls for a cold case review.

“I’ve never heard the [Chhokar] name mentioned by any subsequent lord advocate, first minister or justice minister. It’s almost written out of the justice history of Scotland,” Anwar said.

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“Where is the legacy? And where is the commitment to pursue the killers?

“Why is it that the justice minister and other people in Scotland haven’t raised this case themselves? I’m asking that senior investigating officers, with a fresh pair of eyes, be appointed along with the Crown Office.”

The family hope forensics will provide the key to gaining justice.

“If we draw a parallel with the Lawrence case, it was forensics that did it,” Anwar said. “A decade has passed and there have been revolutionary advancements in forensics.”

This was a view backed by Pearson. “In the Lawrence case, new evidence was deduced as a result of DNA analysis – so one would assume that there would be a cold case review in the Chhokar inquiry, and if the criteria for prosecuting again are agreed and delivered, it would be an ideal case for a retrial.”

However, the Crown Office would not be drawn on which cases may be reviewed.

A spokesman said: “The Lord Advocate has asked the Solicitor General to look at cases which may be able to be prosecuted anew under the new double jeopardy act.

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“It is too early to speculate on how any particular case will be dealt with as a result.”

David McLetchie, the Scottish Conservatives’ justice spokesman, warned: “Whilst it is understandable that people might like to look again at a case, in light of what happened in the Stephen Lawrence case, we should be very careful about drawing comparisons between two cases. The circumstances are significantly different.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Decisions to take forward prosecutions are entirely a matter for the Crown Office, not ministers.”