Ronnie Coulter’s trial made Scottish legal history
Eastern Eye Staff
A Scottish man has been sentenced to life in jail for the murder of a 32-year-old after being tried for the second time.
Surjit Singh Chhokar was considered one of Scotland’s most high-profile murder victims because his killing set a precedent as one of the first cases to be retried after the abolition of the country’s double jeopardy laws.
His killer, Ronnie Coulter, 48, will serve a minimum of 19 years and eight months behind bars before he is eligible to apply for parole.
He was convicted by a majority jury verdict of stabbing Chhokar to death in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, on November 4, 1998.
Jailing him at the high court in Glasgow on Monday (31), 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 a £100 giro.
“You chose to involve yourself. The evidence showed that what happened was not on the spur of the moment.”
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, to meet Chhokar after a row over a stolen £100 cheque. After an altercation, Chhokar collapsed in front of his partner Liz Bryce. 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 Coulter was previously tried for Chhokar’s murder in 1999, but was cleared of the charge.
“It is plain 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,” the judge said.
He praised what he called “the quiet dignity” of the Chhokar family who had endured an 18-year wait for justice.
Speaking outside court, Aamer Anwar, the Chhokar family lawyer, 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 on Monday the presence of justice has finally given Surjit’s family peace.”
Detective chief superintendent 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.”
Coulter was convicted by a majority verdict earlier this month following a four-week trial at the Glasgow high court.
It was only the second time in Scottish legal history that an accused had been tried twice for the same crime.