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Racist murder of Sikh waiter to be reinvestigated after 10-year campaign

PUBLISHED January 26, 2012

Case of Surjit Chhokar, who was stabbed to death in 1998, will be reopened after Scotland scraps double jeopardy rule

The racist murder of a Sikh waiter has been officially reopened by Scotland's chief prosecutor after a 10-year campaign by the dead man's family.

Frank Mulholland, the lord advocate, said the police had been asked to reinvestigate the murder of Surjit Chhokar in November 1998 after he met the man's family in Edinburgh on Thursday morning.

Mulholland confirmed that the Crown Office was now reviewing the case after the Scottish parliament last year scrapped the so-called double jeopardy rule that prevented someone previously cleared of a serious crime being prosecuted again for that offence.

Chhokar's death from multiple stab wounds, after he was allegedly attacked by a group of men on a street in Overtown near Motherwell, has been likened to the Stephen Lawrence case in south London.

Lesley Thomson, the solicitor general for Scotland, said: "The prosecution service is committed to make use of the powers under the new double jeopardy legislation.

"The Scottish parliament, in passing the act, has clearly stated that the passage of time since an acquittal should be no protection for those for whom there is new and compelling evidence of guilt. We hope that our commitment to the new legislation will give reassurance to victims and their families."

The failure of the original prosecution cases led to furious attacks on the Crown Office and two official inquiries. After one into the Crown Office's handling of the case, the then lord advocate, Colin Boyd, admitted that Chhokar's family had been failed by the system. That inquiry also found the prosecution and police guilty of institutional racism.

The Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act, which came into force in November 2011, allows someone to be retried if there was "tainted evidence", new or undiscovered confessions, if new evidence emerges, where earlier proceedings were nullified or where an injured person dies.

Aamer Anwar, the family's solicitor, said: "Thirteen years ago, Surjit's family began their struggle for justice. Every step has required their sacrifice and suffering. Surjit was described as Scotland's Stephen Lawrence so when two of Stephen Lawrence's killers finally faced justice because of the double jeopardy law [in England and Wales], Surjit's family dared to hope that justice was still possible for Surjit.

"The lord advocate and solicitor general have taken important steps today but there are significant hurdles to cross. The family believes there is a determination to fight for justice." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds