Historic justice for Sikh man murdered in Scotland in 1998 | world-news | Hindustan Times
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Historic justice for Sikh man murdered in Scotland in 1998

world Updated: Oct 05, 2016 18:53 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
double jeopardy law

Sikh waiter Surjit Singh Chhokar was stabbed to death in Scotland 17 years ago.(Representative photo)

In a widely followed murder retrial in Scotland, a court on Wednesday convicted a man for the 1998 murder of Sikh waiter Surjit Singh Chhokar, 17 years after the accused was first tried and acquitted.

Ronnie Coulter was found guilty by the high court in Glasgow of fatally stabbing 32-year-old Chhokar in Overtown, North Lanarkshire, in November 1998 after a row over a £100 cheque. The retrial followed a change in the double jeopardy law in 2012.

Coulter now faces a mandatory life term. It was only the second time in Scottish legal history that an accused has been tried twice for the same crime.

Two prosecution cases failed in 1999 and 2000, leading to a public outcry. The case was reopened four years ago after a lengthy campaign for justice by Chhokar’s family. One of two official inquiries found the prosecution and the police were guilty of institutional racism.

The then lord advocate, Colin Boyd, admitted that the system had failed Chhokar’s family. During the retrial, the jury heard that Coulter, his nephew Andrew and another man, David Montgomery, went to see Chhokar on the night he died following a row over a stolen Giro cheque.

The three men confronted the waiter in the street as he returned home from work with a takeaway meal. After an altercation, the father of two collapsed and died of massive blood loss after being stabbed three times, once straight through his heart.

Coulter denied murdering Chhokar, lodging a special defence blaming his nephew and Montgomery for the killing. Coulter was cleared of murder following a trial in 1999. Andrew Coulter, who was convicted of stabbing and killing another man in 1999, and Montgomery, too were cleared of Chhokar’s murder in 2000.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar, who campaigned for the Chhokar family, said: "Today's verdict is not a cause for celebration but relief that finally justice has been done after nearly 18 years.

"No-one can imagine the devastating toll on a family who were forced to campaign for justice.

"In 2000, I stood on the steps of this court, accusing our justice system of acting like a gentleman's colonial club - of being arrogant, unaccountable and institutionally racist.”