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Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 15:14 GMT
Race claims in Chhokar murder
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The Chhokar family say the legal system has failed them
BBC Scotland's Bob Wylie reports on the background to the Surjit Singh Chhokar murder controversy - and reveals that one of the accused is serving time for killing a man.

In November 1998, Surjit Singh Chhokar came back from work late in the evening.

He was attacked by three men. Seconds later, he was dead, stabbed through the heart.

Surjit Chhokar had been murdered because of a dispute over his benefit cheque.

Benefits cheque
The murder was because of a benefits cheque
Earlier that day, it had been stolen and cashed, the pay-out 100.17.

The attack - an attempt to stop him going to the police.

Within a week of the murder, three men had been charged.

They were Ronnie Coulter, his nephew Andrew Coulter, both from Wishaw, and David Montgomery, from Motherwell.

In March last year, only Ronnie Coulter went on trial. In his defence, he blamed the other two. He was found not guilty.

This is the second time in two years that this family has had to come to court to see this travesty of justice

Aamer Anwar
After lengthy legal delays, Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery went on trial this November.

Their special defence cited Ronnie Coulter as the murderer. They were found not guilty.

But back to the High Court in Glasgow and the first trial because what happened there was very important for the development of the rest of the case.

Judges' clash

When Ronnie Coulter was found not guilty of the murder of Surjit Chhokar, there was a legal controversy.

It was between the first trial judge, Lord McCluskey, and the then Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie.

Lord McCluskey questioned why only one of the three accused had been put on trial.

He said: "For reasons I cannot begin to understand, only one of those persons was put in the dock."

Lord Hardie replied: "Such uninformed and ill-advised remarks do not serve the interests of justice."

Aamer Anwar
Aamer Anwar: "Travesty of justice"
After the first verdict, Mr Chhokar's family launched a campaign.

They claimed they were victims of a miscarriage of justice and allegations of racism were made against the legal system.

Aamer Anwar, spokesman for the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign, said: "We want a full-scale public inquiry into the handling of this case.

"As far as we are concerned, three people attacked and murdered Surjit Singh Chhokar.

"Why are three people not facing life sentences? What happened in this case?

"This is the second time in two years that this family has had to come to court to see this travesty of justice."

'Dissatisfaction' claim

Twenty-seven MSPs have backed the Chhokar campaign.

Scottish National Party justice spokeswoman Roseanna Cunningham, herself a lawyer, said: "It does appear that the Crown Office behaves frequently as if it's infallible and it is not.

"I think it's about time it understood that nobody any longer is prepared just to listen to their bland assurances for the line they take.

"The Chhokar trial, I think, has brought a lot of that dissatisfaction to a head and it is unlikely that the Crown Office are going to be off the hook easily on this one."

Donald Findlay
Donald Findlay: "Rumour and speculation"
Donald Findlay QC led the defence in the first trial.

In principle, he believes the Scottish justice system should be more open and accountable.

"I am not suggesting that in every single case the Crown should be publicly called to account", he said.

"But where there is some controversy and obvious public interest, instead of just allowing rumour and speculation to run rife, what's wrong nowadays with the Crown coming forward and saying 'these are our reasons, we're not justifying them, but we are prepared to explain them.'"

Killing twist

But the story doesn't end there.

For the first time, BBC News Online Scotland can reveal that one of those accused of Surjit Chhokar's murder is serving a six-year jail sentence for stabbing another man to death.

Thomas Kelly
Thomas Kelly: Brother died
In September last year, in Caledonian Road, Wishaw, Patrick Kelly was attacked by a gang.

He was stabbed by Andrew Coulter, who was then waiting to go on trial for Surjit Chhokar's murder.

Mr Kelly's family want answers.

His brother Thomas said: "That boy shouldn't have been on the street in the first place.

"If it was done correctly the first time or even tagged in the house, my brother would still be walking today.

"He would still be walking this planet."

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See also:

27 Nov 00 | Scotland
Lawyer tells of 'evil killer'
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