The Crown Office has instructed Strathclyde Police to carry out a fresh investigation into the unsolved murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar in North Lanarkshire in 1998 following new ‘double jeopardy’ laws.
The waiter was stabbed to death outside his home in Overtown, Lanarkshire on 4 November 1998. No conviction was ever secured despite three men being charged in two separate trials.
Humza Yousaf, MSP for Glasgow who has championed the case, said: ‘I welcome this announcement. It is a big step in the fight for justice for Mr Chhokar and his family. I have no doubt that Strathclyde Police will work tirelessly on the investigation, however, we need members of the public to do their bit too. If you have any information you think may be useful, regardless of how insignificant it may seem, please contact Strathclyde Police who can deal with people on a confidential basis. For 13 years the Chhokar family has been searching for answers. Every time they have left disappointed and despondent. By opening up an investigation into the murder I am hopeful that justice for Surjit Singh Chhokar and his family is closer than it has ever been before.’
Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, met with Mr Chhokar’s family on Thursday 26 January to inform them of the re-opening of the murder inquiry.
Solicitor Aamer Anwar, speaking on behalf of the Chhokar family, said afterwards that: ‘significant hurdles have still to be cross. But the family now believes there is a determination to fight for justice.’
The Solicitor General, Lesley Thomson said: ‘The prosecution service is committed to making 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.’ Other cases are under review for possible action under the new legislation which came into effect last November.
In an emotional press conference recently, Mr Chhokar’s sister, Manjit Sangha said all the family ever asked for was justice.
Glasgow Region MSP Humza Yousaf raised the case of Surjit Singh Chhokar at First Minister’s Question Time on Thursday 12 January. Mr Chhokar, a 32-year-old father of two, was stabbed to death in Overton, Lanarkshire, in 1998 but no-one has been found guilty and charged with his murder.
Following the recent legislative changes relating to double jeopardy, allowing a retrial of a suspect in very serious crimes, and the conviction of two men for the murder of Stephen Lawrence on the basis of new evidence and more advanced technology, there is a real possibility that justice could be delivered, finally, for Mr Chhokar’s family.
Commenting, Humza Yousaf said: ‘The case of Surjit Singh Chhokar remains unsolved and I urge the Crown Office to revisit it following the changes to the law on double jeopardy. I ask the First Minister to do everything in his power to ensure no stone is left unturned in the search for justice for the Chhokar family. I welcome the First Minister’s response confirming that the Solicitor General is currently reviewing cases which might be prosecuted under the newly established rules on double jeopardy. Rightly, this remains a matter for the Crown Office. He assured me that the prosecution service is committed to the pursuit of those who have avoided detection for murder, and that they will ensure investigations and prosecutions are taken in appropriate cases.
“I sincerely hope the Crown Office will open an investigation into this case when the Solicitor General finishes his review. To those who committed this heinous crime: they should be sleeping uneasy in their bed at night as we are determined to bring them to justice.’