Glasgow & West Scotland

Ronnie Coulter jailed for 1998 murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar

Ronnie Coulter Image copyright Spindrift
Image caption Ronnie Coulter was given a mandatory life term for murdering Mr Chhokar

A man has been jailed for life for the 1998 murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar after being tried for a second time.

Ronnie Coulter, 48, from Wishaw, was originally cleared of stabbing the 32-year-old in Overtown, North Lanarkshire, following a trial in 1999.

The Crown was given permission to bring a second prosecution following changes to Scotland's double jeopardy laws.

Following his conviction earlier this month, Coulter was told he must serve a minimum of 19 years and eight months.

This is the time he must spend in prison before he is eligible to apply for parole.

Image caption Surjit Singh Chhokar was stabbed to death in North Lanarkshire in 1998

Jailing him at the High Court in Glasgow, judge Lord Matthews said: "Chhokar was the victim of an ambush which cost him his life.

"The jury accepted you were responsible for his brutal murder over the theft of £100.70 Giro.

"You chose to involve yourself. The evidence showed that what happened was not on the spur of the moment."

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Media captionLord Matthews told Ronnie Coulter: "You are here to answer for your crime"

Lord Matthews said that on the night of the murder, Coulter had travelled to Overtown with his nephew Andrew Coulter and a friend, David Montgomery.

The judge added: "It is plain that your only purpose was violence and you must have had a knife to hand. You inflicted three stab wounds on his body in the most despicable and cowardly manner.

"Now, many years later you are here to answer for your crime."

Lord Matthews praised what he called "the quiet dignity" of the Chhokar family who had endured an 18-year wait for justice.

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Media captionThe Chhokar family say killer Ronnie Coulter has shown "no remorse or sorrow"

Speaking outside court, Chhokar family lawyer Aamer Anwar said: "In the 18 years it took to prove Ronnie Coulter's guilt, he has never shown a shred of remorse or sorrow.

"Surjit Singh Chhokar was not his only victim. His two parents, a sister, two young children and his partner Liz had their lives devastated, but today the presence of justice has finally given Surjit's family peace."

Det Ch Supt Clark Cuzen, who led the new investigation into the murder, said, "I hope today's sentence gives some closure to the family and again, I would like to thank them for their courage and dignity throughout."

A Crown Office spokesman said the sentencing of Coulter had "finally delivered justice for the Chhokar family".

"The family have shown great courage and dignity throughout their long wait to see someone jailed for his killing," he said.

Coulter was convicted by majority verdict earlier this month following a four-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

It was only the second time in Scottish legal history that an accused had been tried twice for the same crime. The other saw Angus Sinclair convicted of the World's End murders after a second trial.

The trial heard that Ronnie Coulter, his nephew Andrew Coulter and another man, David Montgomery, went to see Mr Chhokar on 4 November 1998 following a row over a stolen £100 Giro cheque.

After an altercation, Mr Chhokar collapsed in front of his partner Liz Bryce.

New investigation

He was stabbed three times in the chest and one of the blows pierced his heart, resulting in his death from massive blood loss.

The court also heard how Ronnie Coulter was previously tried for Mr Chhokar's murder in 1999, but cleared of the charge.

Andrew Coulter, who was convicted of stabbing and killing another man in 1999, and Mr Montgomery, were also cleared of Mr Chhokar's murder at another trial in 2000.

In 2011, changes were made to the double jeopardy law which prevented an accused person from being tried for the same offence twice.

Image copyright Spindrift
Image caption David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter

In January 2013, the Crown Office ordered a new investigation into the Chhokar case.

The following year, three high court judges granted prosecutors permission to retry Ronnie Coulter.

He denied the charge and lodged a special defence blaming his nephew Andrew and Mr Montgomery.

Both men gave evidence during the trial and admitted being there on the night Mr Chhokar died, but they denied murder.

The jury decided Ronnie Coulter committed the murder and convicted him following the second trial.

In mitigation, Coulter's representative Donald Findlay QC said his client maintained that he was at the scene but did not "wield the knife".

Mr Findlay also said race "had no part whatsoever to play in this matter" and urged Lord Matthews to judge on "the facts of the case" and exercise leniency in respect of Coulter's treatment for depression and paranoid schizophrenia.

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