Tuesday 6 December 2016

Man who boasted about committing 'perfect murder’ convicted for 1998 killing

Ronnie Coulter was initially acquitted when he stood trial for the murder in 1999

Published 06/10/2016 | 08:02

Ronnie Coulter, 48 (Police Scotland )
Ronnie Coulter, 48 (Police Scotland )

A man who claimed he had committed the “perfect murder” has been convicted of killing Surjit Singh Chhokar after a 17-year-fight for justice by the victim's family.

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Ronnie Coulter was found guilty of stabbing the 32-year-old waiter as he returned home from work in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire on 4 November 1998.

The scene in Garrion Street, Overtown, where Surjit Singh Chhokar was attacked (PA)
The scene in Garrion Street, Overtown, where Surjit Singh Chhokar was attacked (PA)

The jury took 10 hours over three days to find 48-year-old Coulter of Overtown, Wishaw guilty following a four-week trial at the High Court Glasgow.

Further charges, including the claim Coulter forged Mr Chhokar's signature on a £100 giro cheque on the day of his death, were dropped during the trial.

Coulter denied the charges and blamed his nephew Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery for the killing. Andrew Coulter and Montgomery were tried for the murder in 2000 but both were acquitted. 

Ronnie Coulter was initially acquitted when he stood trial for the murder in 1999.

The scene in Garrion Street, Overtown, where Surjit Singh Chhokar was attacked (PA)
The scene in Garrion Street, Overtown, where Surjit Singh Chhokar was attacked (PA)

The court heard that Coulter told his sister, Margaret Chisholm, he had got away with the perfect murder following the verdict.

Two official inquiries were ordered after the original trials were over. One made allegations of “institutional racism”. After the publication of reports in 2001, the then Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, said the Chhokar family had been failed by the police and prosecution services.

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

Coulter now faces a mandatory life term. His conviction is the second time in Scottish legal history that an accused has been tried two times for the same crime.

Before his death in November 2015, Mr Chhokar's father Darshan said his only wish was that those responsible for his son's death “face justice”.

The family's lawyer, Aamer Anwar, who began campaigning for justice for the family as a law student, read a statement on behalf on the family on Wednesday: “There is real sorrow that Mr Chhokar is not here to see justice but I hope that both he and Surjit are now finally at peace.

“Today's verdict is not a cause for celebration but relief that finally justice has been done.

“At the end of the second trial in 2000, I stood on the steps of this court accusing our justice system of acting like a 'gentleman's colonial club', of being 'arrogant, unaccountable and institutionally racist', but today the Chhokar family want to thank the prosecutors, Crown Office and Police Scotland for their unwavering commitment to justice. They have shown themselves at their finest.

“Surjit was a loving son, father and brother who was lucky to have two stubborn parents who refused to be silenced as they fought for justice as a right and not a privilege.”

He said the family have “placed victim's rights at the heart of a modern criminal justice system, which will be their legacy for generations to come”.

Detective Chief Superintendent Clark Cuzen said: “It is important to recognise the tireless campaigning for justice over the years by the Chhokar family and their lawyer, Aamer Anwar. I hope they can take some comfort from today’s verdict.

“This tireless activity ultimately revealed fresh evidence that pointed the finger firmly at Ronnie Coulter as the man responsible for the violent and calculated attack on Surjit Singh Chhokar.

“Whilst we were unable to find evidence of racial motivation at the time of the murder, there was evidence to support the fact that Ronnie Coulter described Surjit using racist terms when confessing to the murder.

“Coulter has been cowardly for showing absolutely no remorse for his crimes and the fact that he has actively and deliberately tried to evade justice for years speaks volume about the individual."

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