Judge warns public not to approach Chhokar murder trial jurors

Surjit Singh Chhokar, who was murdered in 1988, with his bride Sanehdeep Kaur Chhokar. Picture: Contributed
Surjit Singh Chhokar, who was murdered in 1988, with his bride Sanehdeep Kaur Chhokar. Picture: Contributed

A judge today warned members of the public not to approach jurors in the Surjit Singh Chhokar murder trial.

Trial judge Lord Matthews issued the stern telling off after being told that a juror had been spoken to by a woman on a bus.

The woman, who is believed to have been watching the trial from the public benches, gave her views on the legal profession to the jury member.

At the High Court in Glasgow on Thursday Lord Matthews said: “A member of the public approached one of the jurors on a bus and gave her views on lawyers. This kind of thing is most unwelcome. Members of the public should not approach jurors.

“This has caused this trial to be delayed and instead of starting at 10am it started at 11.20am. The knock-on effect is that the witness – an important witness – will not be finished his evidence now until Monday, as the court is not sitting on Friday.”

Lord Matthews, addressing himself to those sitting in the public benches of the court, said: “This must not happen again or serious consequences may ensue.”

• READ MORE: Man goes on trial accused of Surjit Singh Chhokar murder

When the trial finally started witness David Montgomery gave evidence for a second day.

Ronnie Coulter, 48, from Wishaw, denies murdering Surjit Singh Chhokar – who was known by everyone as Chhokar - in Garrion Street, Overtown, North Lanarkshire Mr Chhokar on November 4, 1998 by stabbing him.

Ronnie Coulter has lodged a special defence blaming his nephew Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery.

Mr Montgomery has told the court that he drove Ronnie Coulter and his nephew to Garrion Street that night and saw Ronnie appear to punch Chhokar three or four times and Andrew Coulter hit him with a bat.

He said he thought of hitting Chhokar, but decided not to.

The three men had gone to see 32-year-old Chhokar following a row over a £100 Giro cheque.

Prosecutor Alex Prentice QC asked Mr Montgomery if he remembered receiving a phone call from Andrew Coulter in the early hours of November 5, 1998 and he said he did not.

He was taken to a transcript from a trial in 2000 when he was acquitted of murder and Mr Prentice asked: “Did you say; ‘He said Ronnie’s went and stabbed him.”

Mr Montogemy, 39, from Motherwell, replied: “I still don’t recall that phone call, sorry.”

However, he admitted that he had made the comments under oath in court and was telling the truth.”

• READ MORE: Partner of Surjit Singh Chhokar tells court of murder aftermath

The witness was asked about his part in the incidents that night and said: “I was present at the event, not a participant. In my mind it is only presence.”

Mr Prentice said: “You said you intended to punch Chhokar but did not, it would be reasonable to suggest he thought he was under attack by three men,” and Mr Montgomery responded: “I don’t agree.”

Mr Montgomery was then taken to a statement he made to police just days after Chhokar’s death in which he claimed he had been in Overtown that night to see a man called Kevin about buying counterfeit cigarettes.

Mr Prentice said: ‘This was a cock and bull story. You were lying to the police,” and Mr Montgomery replied: “I was avoiding the truth.”

The prosecutor added: “The police are investigating the death of a man and you give false information to them,” and the witness replied: “Yes, to begin with.”

Ronnie Coulter denies all the charges against him.

The trial before judge Lord Matthews continues.

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