Mother of race attack accused 'was wrong target'

The mother and grandmother of two men cleared of the racist murder of an Asian waiter was not the intended victim of the gang that attacked her in her home, police said last night.

Mary Coulter, 76, was lucky to be alive after four men burst into her home in Overtown, Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, and subjected her to a "horrific" and "sustained" assault early on Thursday morning.

The pensioner was left with two broken arms, serious head injuries and cuts to the face. Nothing was stolen and detectives said they did not suspect any link between the attack and the case of Surjit Singh Chhokar, who has become known as Scotland's Stephen Lawrence.

Mrs Coulter's son Ronnie Coulter, his nephew Andrew Coulter and another defendant were cleared of the unprovoked murder of the 32-year-old Indian waiter, who was stabbed in the heart in 1998 after a confrontation with a group of white men outside the home he shared with his girlfriend in Overtown.

Ronnie Coulter was acquitted of the murder in 1999 after blaming the two other men. They were cleared at a separate trial in 2000 when they claimed he had carried out the attack. Andrew Coulter was later jailed for six years for killing a man while on bail for the waiter's murder.

An independent investigation accused Strathclyde Police and prosecutors in 2001 of institutional racism in their handling of the Chhokar case. In January the Crown Office ordered police to reopen the investigation into the murder after a change to the law on double jeopardy.

Detective Chief Inspector Pat Campbell said the gang that attacked Mrs Coulter may have targeted the wrong address and that there was nothing to suggest that the motive was to get to the family.

He said: "It's been a sustained, horrific attack on her. It appears to be a focused, targeted attack on the address or address nearby and one of the things we are looking at is if the address is correct or is it an address within that locality, but it would appear she was not the intended victim."

The attackers fled when neighbours were alerted by Mrs Coulter's screams. The suspects are described as white men. They were wearing either hooded tops or scarves to hide their faces. One was described as particularly heavily built. All were wearing light-coloured trainers.