HIGH Court judges have granted prosecutors permission to retry a man accused of murdering the Lanarkshire waiter Surjit Singh Chhokar in 1998.
At a hearing in Edinburgh yesterday, three judges ruled Ronnie Coulter, 46, can be prosecuted again under double jeopardy legislation.
The court found two others, Andrew Coulter, 33, and David Montgomery, 37, cannot face trial for a second time. All three men were previously cleared of murdering Mr Chhokar, 32, in Overtown, North Lanarkshire.
The ruling followed a hearing at the High Court earlier this month before judges Lord Carloway, Lady Dorrian and Lord Malcolm. Under the terms of the legislation, the Crown has until 28 January to commence proceedings.
Speaking outside the court yesterday, alongside Mr Chhokar’s sister Manjit Sangha, 53, the family’s solicitor, Aamer Anwar, said: “Today is an important decision but I hope you will appreciate that as proceedings are live, it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”
It is only the second case to be retried following the introduction of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act in November 2011, which overturned the 800-year-old legal principle that an individual cannot be tried for the same crime twice.
Mr Chhokar, a waiter and father of two, was killed in Overtown’s Garrion Street, just yards from the home he shared with his girlfriend in November 1998.
The decision to seek the quashing of the original acquittals against the three men accused of Mr Chhokar’s murder was made public in May after his family met the Lord Advocate.
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At the time Mr Anwar said: “People may have forgotten his name but his family never gave up hope for justice. The Chhokar family will only ever be at peace when there is justice.”
Earlier this year, Mr Chhokar’s sister Manjit spoke of the strain the murder had placed on her parents Darshan, 75, and Gurdev, 71, who were reluctant to move into sheltered housing because they believed their son’s spirit visited them at the family home.
She said: “I love my brother, my parents lost their son, but nothing happened. My dad has had three cancer operations. My mum looks after him. It is sad to see them. She looks after him 24 hours a day.
“They always thought Surjit would be here for them in their old age. In my culture it is the son who cares for his parents. But Surjit is not there. We just wish he was alive. Our lives changed that night.”
Two weeks ago, Angus Sinclair was found guilty of the murders of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, the so-called World’s End killings, in the first retrial under double jeopardy laws.
The two 17-year-old girls were murdered and raped by Sinclair in Edinburgh in 1977 after leaving the World’s End pub. He stood trial for the crime in 2007 but was acquitted after the case collapsed.
The collapse of that case was one of the reasons behind the Scottish Government’s decision to introduce legislation that would enable people to be tried more than once for the same crime, in exceptional circumstances.
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