Fate of 'Scottish Stephen Lawrence' case in balance


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The Independent Online

Scotland's top law officer will today meet the family of an Asian man murdered by a white gang – one of the country's most notorious unsolved crimes – to discuss whether or not to reopen the case.

The sister of Surjit Singh Chhokar, who was murdered in Lanarkshire in November 1998 and became known as "Scotland's Stephen Lawrence" after failures to bring his killers to justice, told The Independent that she hoped prosecutors would not make "the same mistakes" again.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with Scotland's Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, Manjit Sangha, 50, said: "We felt for so long that there would never be justice for Surjit. All I want to say to the Lord Advocate is that they made a mistake and now they have a very good chance of setting it right. I hope they won't make the same mistake they made last time – that's all I want from them."

Chhokar's murder still casts a shadow over the country's justice system. An inquiry into the failed prosecutions of suspects found elements of institutional racism within Strathclyde Police and Scottish prosecutors.

The Crown Office, Scotland's prosecution service, is considering which cases can be reinvestigated after a change in the "double jeopardy" law that allows suspects to face a second trial for the same crime if new evidence emerges.Chhokar's murder is one of the cases under consideration and the family hope that the Lord Advocate's offer to meet them will lead to a decision to reopen the case.

Three men were originally charged with the murder at two separate trials. At the first trial in March 1999, Ronnie Coulter blamed his two fellow suspects and had his conviction reduced to assault. At the second trial in November 2000, his nephew Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery blamed Ronnie Coulter and also walked free.

The family believed they would never win justice for Surjit, but a new campaign to bring his killers to trial has gained momentum since the successful convictions of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

"I'm still shocked at what happened to us," Manjit said. "I lost my only brother who can never be replaced and his killers are walking the streets. They [the Crown Office and the judiciary] let our family down. They didn't do their job properly. I'm so glad the law has changed. It has brought hope that something will be done."