Surjit Singh Chhokar murder: ‘Justice for Surjit is my father’s last wish’

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THE sister of Surjit Singh Chhokar, an Asian waiter stabbed to death more than 13 years ago, has made an emotional plea for his killers to be brought to justice to fulfil her ill father’s “last wish”.

In her appeal, Manjit Sangha urged the Crown Office to re-open the inquiry into her brother’s unsolved murder.

Surjit Singh Chhokar was stabbed to death 13 years ago in Overtown, Lanarkshire

Surjit Singh Chhokar was stabbed to death 13 years ago in Overtown, Lanarkshire

The family’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said he was optimistic, after speaking to police and the Lord Advocate, that an inquiry would be relaunched.

Echoing the words of the judge who issued a warning to the other suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder, Mr Anwar said Mr Chhokar’s killers “should not rest easy in their beds”.

They were backed in an appeal at the Scottish Parliament yesterday by MSPs Humza Yousaf of the SNP, and Scottish Labour’s Graeme Pearson. Mr Chhokar, 32, was stabbed to death in Overton, Lanarkshire, in November 1998, after a confrontation with a group of white men. Ronnie Coulter, 43, was initially 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.

Surjit Singh Chhokar's sister, Manjit Sangha, is seeking to have the investigation into her brother's death reopened. Picture: Ian Rutherford''''''17/01/2012, TSPL, Scotsman, Surjit Singh Chhokar Press conference Scottish Parliament Edinburgh. press conference regarding Double jeopardy and the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar in 1998. Manjit Sangha, sister of Surjit holds a picture of her brother. Pic Ian Rutherford

Surjit Singh Chhokar's sister, Manjit Sangha, is seeking to have the investigation into her brother's death reopened. Picture: Ian Rutherford''''''17/01/2012, TSPL, Scotsman, Surjit Singh Chhokar Press conference Scottish Parliament Edinburgh. press conference regarding Double jeopardy and the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar in 1998. Manjit Sangha, sister of Surjit holds a picture of her brother. Pic Ian Rutherford

Ronnie Coulter was later convicted of contempt of court for giving evasive answers and attempting to create confusion.

The Scottish Government’s Double Jeopardy Act 2011 allows prosecutors to try people twice if new evidence comes to light. The same law in England and Wales paved the way for the convictions of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.

The Crown Office is currently considering which Scottish cases could be reopened.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Ms Sangha said: “It is 13 years since Surjit Singh Chhokar, my brother, was taken from us. People will have forgotten Surjit’s name, yet the darkness of his murder still shadows our lives. All that we have ever asked for is justice.

“The recent changes in the law once again gave us hope. I am extremely sad that my father, Darshan Singh Chhokar, cannot be by my side today.

“This is because he is extremely ill with cancer, but his last wish is that justice can be done. We are not here to start a campaign again. My family simply want the Lord Advocate to bring Surjit’s killers to court and give us justice.”

Mr Anwar said advancements in forensics, new witnesses, or evidence that one of the early trials were tainted, could trigger a retrial. He added a new investigation could be imminent. He said: “My understanding is police are ready to go forward and I’m encouraged by what I’ve heard from the Crown Office.”

He urged investigators to look again at the original suspects.

“At the two trials in March 1999 and November 2000, it was demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that three men, Ronnie Coulter, Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery, were either present or attacked Surjit Singh Chhokar when he was beaten and stabbed to death.”

He added: “He [Surjit] was a much loved son, father, brother and uncle. Surjit’s family never wanted him to be Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence, but once again killers were left to roam the streets.”

Mr Yousaf, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, said: “People want this case resolved from all sides.”

Mr Pearson, who was Strathclyde Police assistant chief constable during the initial murder inquiry, added: “The introduction of new legislation which allows double jeopardy and the reconsideration of cases such as the Chhokar case is a breath of fresh air to the legal system and offers an opportunity for the Crown to address a number of cases which lie in the system which need to be resolved.

“I think Surjit Singh Chhokar is one of those cases.”

A Crown Office spokesman said: “The Lord Advocate has spoken with Aamer Anwar, solicitor to the Chhokar family, and confirmed that both the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General would be pleased to meet with the Chhokar family on 26 January.”