A 48-year-old Scot was on Wednesday convicted for the murder of an Indian-origin man 18 years ago, one of Scotland’s most high-profile murder cases. The killing of Surjit Singh Chhokar has now set a precedent as among the first cases being retried after the abolition of Scotland’s double jeopardy laws.
Ronnie Coulter faces a mandatory life sentence after being convicted by a majority jury verdict of stabbing 32-year-old Chhokar to death in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, on November 4, 1998.
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The jury took around 10 hours over three days to convict Coulter after a landmark four-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow.
Judge Lord Matthews deferred sentencing until October 31 and told Coulter, “There is only one sentence I can pass of life imprisonment. The only question for me is how long you should serve before being eligible for parole”.
Members of Chhokar’s family have campaigned for years for justice and sobbed as the guilty verdict was announced.
Chhokar’s father, Darshan Singh Chhokar, died last year having led the campaign for years.
The family’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, hugged the victim’s 73-year-old mother Gurdev Kaur Chhokar as the killer was found guilty.
Anwar 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. Their is real sorrow that Mr Darshan Singh Chhokar is not here to see justice, but I hope that both he and Surjit are finally at peace,” he said.
Detective Chief Superintendent Clark Cuzen, who led the investigation, said: “Coulter has been cowardly for showing absolutely no remorse for his crimes and the fact that he has actively and deliberately tried to evade justice for years speaks volume about the individual”.
The trial heard that Coulter, his nephew Andrew Coulter and another man, David Montgomery, went to see Chhokar on November 4, 1998 after a row over a stolen 100-pound cheque.
After an altercation, Chhokar collapsed in front of his partner Liz Bryce. He was stabbed three times in the chest and one of the blows pierced his heart, resulting in his death from massive blood loss.
The court also heard how Coulter was previously tried for Chhokar’s murder in 1999, but cleared of the charge.
Andrew Coulter, who was convicted of stabbing and killing another man in 1999, and Montgomery, were also cleared of Chhokar’s murder at another trial in 2000.
In 2011, changes were made to the double jeopardy law which prevented an accused person from being tried for the same offence twice and in 2013, the Crown Office ordered a new investigation into the Chhokar case.