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Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 10:04 GMT
Chhokar trial pair sent to jail
Chhokar graphic
Three men stood accused of murdering Mr Chhokar
Two main prosecution witnesses in the second trial for the murder of Indian waiter Surjit Chhokar have been given the maximum prison sentence for contempt of court.

Ronnie Coulter and Sandra Tierney, from Wishaw, in Lanarkshire, were each sentenced to two years' imprisonment.

The trial judge Lord Bonomy said he had to mark the gravity of the contempt as well as send a message to others tempted to defy the authority of the court.

It is difficult to imagine a more serious form of contempt

Lord Bonomy
Coulter was originally cleared of the murder of Mr Chhokar, 32, after blaming his nephew Andrew Coulter,19, and 23-year-old David Montgomery.

In the subsequent trial of Andrew Coulter and Montgomery at the High Court in Paisley, he was accused of being evasive.

Lord Bonomy said Coulter's behaviour during the trial of the two men was unacceptable and also viewed Tierney as a hostile witness.

The pair were found guilty on 23 January, when the judge said 32-year-old Coulter was "evasive" and getting evidence from him was "like pulling teeth".

He had remanded Coulter in custody pending reports, while Tierney, 32, was released on bail and warned to make provisions for the care of her child ahead of her next appearance in court.

Ronnie Coulter
Ronnie Coulter was an evasive witness
Under the 1981 Contempt of Court Act, two years is the maximum prison sentence which can be imposed by a high court or sheriff court.

Sentencing Coulter, Lord Bonomy said: "The proper administration of justice in Scotland and the avoidance of miscarriages depends on the presentation of true and reliable evidence.

"We depend on witnesses to comply with the terms of the oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

The judge said this was essential to prevent the law being undermined and public confidence in the judicial system being weakened.

The judge said he had taken into account information provided by Coulter's counsel, who said his client had been intimidated since he gave evidence.

More serious contempt

However, the judge said: "It is necessary for me to mark the gravity of your contempt and send a message to others who are so readily prepared to commit this crime.

"It is difficult to imagine a more serious form of contempt."

Lord Bonomy sentenced Coulter, who was wearing a blue shirt and black leather jacket, to two years backdated to the date of the first hearing on 23 January.

Sentencing Tierney, Lord Bonomy said: "Your contempt and defiance was more serious than Ronnie Coulter's and it had the potential, I suspect, to have some impact on the trial, although I can never tell that."

He said he could not be lenient with her, even taking into account her reported health problems, her status as a mother of one and the fact that she is a first-time offender.

Sandra Tierney
Sandra Tierney was also found guilty
Tierney remained impassive as she was sentenced and bowed her head as she was led away.

The Crown had begun considering proceedings against Coulter and Tierney after his nephew and Montgomery, also from Wishaw, were cleared in November.

Mr Chhokar was stabbed outside the house he shared with his girlfriend in Overtown, Lanarkshire, on 4 November 1998.

Coulter was cleared of murdering Mr Chhokar in March 1999, but found guilty of assault.

At the first trial Ronnie Coulter blamed his nephew and Montgomery for the killing and at the second trial they blamed him.

Andrew 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.

The excuses for not having a public inquiry are now gone and the family will not give up until they get one

Chhokar family spokesman
The failure to secure a murder conviction after two trials caused a wave of controversy and led to a demand from the Chhokar family for a public inquiry - a call rejected by the lord advocate.

Instead he announced a judicial inquiry into the decision making process in this case and an inquiry into the prosecutor's liaison with the victim's family.

Outside court on Friday, the Chhokar family's legal spokesman Aamer Anwar, renewed calls for a public inquiry.

He said: "The excuses for not having a public inquiry are now gone and the family will not give up until they get one.

"After the Lockerbie trial the Scottish justice system is being held up as one of the best in the world.

"If that is the case then we must have a public inquiry and it should not be a matter of cost."

Mr Chhokar's parents Darsham and Gurdav were in court for the sentencing.

Mr Chhokar said: "Nobody can bring my son back, but no-one is facing a life sentence for his murder."

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23 Jan 01 | Scotland
Chhokar witnesses guilty of contempt
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