Prosecutors hope to reopen the case of Surjit Singh Chhokar, stabbed to death in Scotland's most infamous racist killing
Prosecutors are expected to reopen the unsolved racist murder of an Asian waiter who was repeatedly stabbed to death 13 years ago in North after Scotland's double jeopardy laws were scrapped.
The murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar in November 1998, in Overtown near Motherwell, is regarded as Scotland's most infamous unsolved racist killing. Prosecutors failed to secure a conviction despite the arrest of three chief suspects, and two high court trials.
Pressure on Frank Mulholland, the lord advocate, and police has intensified since the conviction of two of Stephen Lawrence's killers at the Old Bailey earlier this month. Anti-racism campaigners and the family believe there are strong parallels between the Lawrence case and the failure to convict Chhokar's killers.
It is believed that Strathclyde police and prosecutors at the crown office have already begun unofficially reviewing the original productions and statements from the first two trials.
New witnesses are understood to have come forward since a spate of publicity about the case last weekend.
Aamer Anwar, the Chhokar family lawyer, has said he is optimistic that Mulholland will formally reopen the case and order a review of all the evidence. Anwar is due to meet the lord advocate and Lesley Thomson, the solicitor general, on Thursday next week.
In an emotional press conference at the Scottish parliament, Manjit Sangha, Chhokar's sister, said: "People will have forgotten Surjit's name, yet the darkness of his murder still shadows our lives. All that we have ever asked for is justice. The recent changes in the law once again give us hope."
Graeme Pearson, a Labour MSP and former senior detective at Strathclyde police, who helped led the force's formal inquiry into the botched prosecutions 10 years ago, said he regarded the Chhokar case as "unfinished business".
Speaking after appearing at the press conference alongside Sangha and Anwar, Pearson said: "I see no reason not to be optimistic. The legislation has changed the rules vis-a-vis double jeopardy. The Chhokar case is universally acknowledged to be unfinished business. No one who has looked at the case felt it was well handled."
Anwar said: "Just as in Stephen Lawrence's case, the killers of Surjit Singh Chhokar should not rest easy in their beds."
The failure of the prosecutions led to a high-profile inquiry ordered by the then lord advocate, Colin Boyd, who admitted in 2001 that the prosecution had failed the family. That inquiry concluded the crown office was guilty of institutional racism.
The dispute over the crown office's handling of the evidence, particularly its decision to charge just one of the three suspects with the murder, led to furious rows between senior judges and prosecutors.
The trials collapsed in part because the crown office originally charged just one of the three suspects, Ronnie Coulter, 43, with the murder.
Coulter was tried on his own for murder in the first trial, in 1999, but his charge was reduced to assault and he walked free after he blamed the killing on the other two suspects, his nephew Andrew Coulter, 30, and the third accused, David Montgomery
A second trial, of Andrew Coulter and Montgomery in 2000, ended without a guilty verdict after the two men blamed Ronnie Coulter for the crime.
Anwar said the family were now hoping that the most up-to-date forensic techniques, particularly those involving DNA and CCTV, a re-examination of the original testimony and witness evidence, and a new appeal for witnesses could produce enough evidence to lead to a retrial.
"The lord advocate confirmed to me that any murder where justice is denied is a matter of real concern to him," Anwar said. "This morning the lord advocate has given me his assurance that both he and the solicitor general will do their utmost to make full use of the powers under the new legislation."