Surjit Singh Chhokar murder: Mechanic will face second trial over 1998 stabbing of Sikh

Manjit Sangha, sister of Surjit Singh Chhokar, hailed it as an ‘important decision’

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The Independent Online

A car mechanic will face a second trial for killing a Sikh waiter in the street 16 years after he was acquitted of the murder.

In a case that was likened to the Stephen Lawrence murder, Surjit Singh Chhokar, 32, was stabbed through the heart during a row with a group of men close to his home in 1998 but the subsequent investigation and prosecutions were tainted by mistakes and evidence of institutional racism.

Three men were charged and faced two separate trials in 1999 and 2000 but were all acquitted of murder after blaming each other for the killing in the street.

The Scottish authorities earlier this year applied to have the acquittals of Ronnie Coulter, 46, his cousin Andrew and their friend David Montgomery set aside after a change to the 800-year-old double jeopardy principle in Scotland. It means that people now can be tried twice for the same crime. Two weeks ago, the serial killer and rapist Angus Sinclair was jailed for the murders of two teenagers in 1977 in the first retrial since the law changed.

Three High Court judges ruled yesterday that Ronnie Coulter, who is currently living close to the scene of the murder in Overtown, North Lanarkshire, should face a new trial for murdering Mr Chhokar. It could begin as early as the spring but the other two men will not be retried.

“Today is an important decision but I hope you will appreciate that as proceedings are live, it would be inappropriate to comment any further,” said the dead man’s sister Manjit Sangha, 53, after the ruling.

Two inquiries found evidence of institutional racism in a case that led to profound change to the Scottish criminal justice system. The case was likened to that of Stephen Lawrence, the 18-year-old, who was murdered by a racist gang in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993.

Changes to double jeopardy rules for murder cases were introduced in England and Wales in 2005, six years before a similar change in Scotland.

Graeme Pearson, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, said he was delighted that the facts of the case would be heard again. “It will be good to see a court examining all the evidence, no matter the outcome,” he said.