Surjit Singh Chhokar murder: 'Scotland's Stephen Lawrence' case reopened after changes in double jeopardy laws

Three men are facing the prospect of retrial under double jeopardy laws for one of Scotland’s most controversial unsolved killings.

Sikh waiter Surjit Singh Chhokar was stabbed to death in 1998 aged 32, as he returned home from work in Overtown, North Lanarkshire. Three men were arrested and tried in two separate trials although no one was ever convicted of Mr Chhokar’s murder.

The handling of the case – which has been described as Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence - led to a long campaign for justice by the victim’s family.

It resulted in two inquiries which found damning evidence of mistakes and led to an acceptance by the then-Lord Advocate of institutional racism in the police and prosecution services.

Today, the current Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC announced that he has applied to the High Court to reopen the case. He is seeking to have the acquittal of Ronnie Coulter, Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery set aside to make way for a new murder prosecution to commence.

A new trial was made possible following the introduction of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act the previous year which overturned the 800-year-old principle that someone cannot stand trial twice for the same alleged crime.

The decision to seek to have the original acquittals quashed was made public following a meeting between Mr Chhokar’s family and the Lord Advocate. The family’s solicitor Aamer Anwar said there remained “significant legal hurdles” to be overcome.

He said it had been “15 long years” since the tragedy.

“People may have forgotten his name but his family never gave up hope for justice. The Chhokar family are grateful to the Crown Office and Police Scotland for their determination and support. Today is an important step but the Chhokar family will only ever be at peace when there is justice,” he added.

Former Justice Minister Jim Wallace and then-Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC announced two independent inquiries into the case which led to profound changes in the Scottish criminal justice system.

In 2001 Mr Boyd told MSPs that the Chhokar family had been “failed” by the authorities.

In separate reports Sir Anthony Campbell, Justice of the Supreme Court of Northern Ireland, found “clear defects” in the prosecution process, while advocate Dr Raj Jandoo, deputy chair of the Scottish Executive's Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Steering Group, reviewed how prosecutors liaised with the victim's family.

Dr Jandoo concluded that institutional racism by the police, the Procurator Fiscal and the Crown Office had played a part in the treatment of the family particularly in regard of Sikh custom.

The family was not informed of proceedings and left without translation services, it was found. They unsuccessfully campaigned for a public inquiry into the case.

It is only the second time that the Crown Office has sought to reopen a criminal investigation using changes to the principle of double jeopardy.

Last month the High Court granted permission to re-indict Angus Sinclair for the so-called World’s End murders of two women who disappeared after leaving an Edinburgh pub in 1977.

News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home