THE 13-year-old murder of Asian waiter Surjit Singh Chhokar has been reopened by the Crown Office in a landmark case for Scots law.
It becomes the first case to be revisited since double jeopardy legislation was passed last year, enabling people to be tried twice for the same crime if compelling new evidence comes to light.
The Crown Office announced today that Strathclyde Police would be reinvestigating after the Chhokar family met Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, QC, and Solicitor General Lesley Thomson, QC.
For the family, it marks the end of a campaign that has included two failed prosecutions and two inquiries into a case that has been described as “Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence”.
As with the convictions of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the racist killing of Mr Lawrence in London, it is hoped advances in forensics will uncover evidence that was not available at the time of earlier inquiries.
It is also hoped that people in Overton, Lanarkshire, who had information but did not come forward before will now be willing to do so.
Speaking after the meeting at the Crown Office in Edinburgh, the family’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, admitted there were still “significant hurdles to cross”.
“Thirteen years ago, as Surjit’s family began their struggle for justice, every step required their sacrifice and suffering,” he said.
“Surjit was described as Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence, so when two of Stephen’s killers finally faced justice because of the double jeopardy law, the Chhokar family dared to hope that justice was still possible for Surjit.
“The Lord Advocate and Solicitor General have taken important steps today, but there are significant hurdles to cross. The family believe there is a determination to fight for justice.”
He added: “Today is a second chance for the Crown Office to do the right thing but also to show there has been a positive change 13 years later. Surjit’s family will only ever be at peace when there is justice.
“It is now up to the Lord Advocate and Strathclyde Police to do all that is possible.”
Mr Chhokar was stabbed to death outside the home he shared with his girlfriend on 4 November, 1998 after a confrontation with a group of white men.
Ronnie Coulter, 43, was charged with murder, but he was acquitted following a High Court trial. In court, he blamed his nephew, Andrew Coulter, 30, and another man, David Montgomery, 34, who both stood trial in 2000, but were also cleared.
Ronnie Coulter was later convicted of contempt of court for giving evasive answers and attempting to create confusion.
Humza Yousaf MSP, who was among those to call for the case to be reopened, said: “I welcome today’s announcement from the Crown Office, it is a big step in the fight for justice for Mr Chhokar and his family.
“I have no doubt that Strathclyde Police will work tirelessly on the investigation.
“However, we need members of the public to do their bit in aid of the investigation.
“If you have any information you think may be useful, regardless of how insignificant it may seem, please do contact Strathclyde Police who can deal with people on a confidential basis.”
Ms Thomson said: “The prosecution service is committed to making use of the powers under the new double jeopardy legislation. We hope that our commitment …will give reassurance to victims and their families.” Detective Chief Superintendent John Mitchell of Strathclyde Police added: “We are committed to assisting the family of Surjit Singh Chhokar and Crown Office in the re-investigation of his murder.”