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The BBC's Bob Wylie
"The police do not say it was racially motivated"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 16:47 GMT
Two cleared of Chhokar murder
Justice graphic
A campaign for "justice" is under way
Two men accused of murdering an Asian waiter have been found not guilty in a case involving racism allegations and a major legal dispute.

The jury at the High Court in Glasgow took two-and-a-half hours to return its verdicts against Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery.

They were cleared of stabbing Mr Chhokar outside the house he shared with his girlfriend in Overtown, Lanarkshire, on 4 November 1998.

Coulter - who is serving six years for killing a man while waiting to come to trial on the Chhokar murder charge - was found guilty of a reduced charge of assault and was given 12 months detention.

Chhokar family
The dead man's family
He was convicted in January 2000 of stabbing Patrick Kelly, 26, in Wishaw, on 11 September last year.

As the verdict was read out the dead man's parents Darsham and Gurdav bowed their heads and remained expressionless.

There were tuts from the victim's family and whispers of "disgrace" and "shame" as sentence on Coulter was passed.

He was also given three months for breaking into Mr Chhokar's flat, stealing a giro and cooker and cashing the benefit cheque fraudulently.

Special defence

Montgomery, 23, and Coulter, 19, had denied the charges.

Both named Andrew Coulter's uncle, 32-year-old Ronnie Coulter, in a special defence of incrimination.

Ronnie Coulter was acquitted of the killing at a trial last year.

Chhokar death scene
The scene of Mr Chhokar's death
After he walked free in March 1999, the trial judge Lord McCluskey said: "A man was murdered in a public street by one or more persons who have been discussed in the course of this trial, and for reasons I cannot begin to understand only one of these persons was placed in the dock.

"That is a matter for which, to me as a judge of considerable experience, passes my understanding altogether, and I cannot begin to understand what has happened."

His words drew a sharp response from the then Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, who described them as "uninformed and ill-advised".

Lawrence link

Ronnie Coulter's acquital led to a campaign for justice by the Chhokar family, who were supported by the father of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered in London.

They claimed they had been the victims of institutionalised racism within Scotland's legal system.

In his hour-long direction Lord Bonomy told the jury they were there only to consider the guilt or innocence of the two men.

Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence: Race attack victim
"You have a very important task to carry out in the interests of the public," he said.

"This is not an inquiry into who killed Mr Chhokar.

"The sole question in relation to each accused is whether the Crown has proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt."

Lord Bonomy said the jury had to weigh up whether Ronnie Coulter had been shown to be the true culprit, and if he had, they had to acquit the men of charges of murder.

"What you are being asked to do is apply common sense and your everyday experience of life in relation to the evidence you have heard," said the judge.

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See also:

28 Nov 00 | Scotland
Race claims in Chhokar murder
27 Nov 00 | Scotland
Lawyer tells of 'evil killer'
24 Nov 00 | Scotland
Trial told of 'stabbing' phone call
22 Nov 00 | Scotland
Murder trial hears from drug addict
20 Nov 00 | Scotland
'Heart wound killed waiter'
15 Nov 00 | Scotland
Waiter 'dragged away' to his death
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