Background to the Inquiry
1.1 In May 2000 the Lord Advocate, the Rt. Hon Colin Boyd QC,
identified the need for the Crown Office to review the circumstances
surrounding the level of contact between the Chhokar family
and next-of-kin and the Procurator Fiscal Service. The review
was carried out by Mrs Elish Angiolini, Regional Procurator
Fiscal for Grampian, Highland and Islands. Her Report, entitled
`Internal Report to the Lord Advocate: Review of Liaison with
Next of Kin in the Case of Her Majesty's Advocate v. Coulter
and Her Majesty's Advocate v. Montgomery and Coulter' was submitted
on 17th November 2000. On the basis of the findings
of the Report it was decided to set up an independent Inquiry.
Appointment and Terms of Reference
1.2 The Lord Advocate published the Internal Report on 27th
November 2000, and on the following day, 28th November,
he announced the setting up of this Inquiry in a Written Answer
and Statement in the Scottish Parliament following the conclusion
at the High Court in Glasgow of the trial of Her Majesty's Advocate
v. David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter for the murder of
Surjit Singh Chhokar. The Internal Report forms part of the
Terms of Reference given to this Inquiry, which were as follows
"To review and report on the liaison arrangements between
the police, the Procurator Fiscal Service, and the Crown Office
and the family of the deceased Surjit Singh Chhokar in connection
with the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar and the related prosecutions,
and in particular:
· to consider the internal report commissioned
by the Lord Advocate;
· to conduct the inquiry by obtaining information
and comment from the family of Surjit Singh Chhokar, their
representatives and from the police;
· to consult the Commission for Racial Equality
and Victim Support Scotland and any other relevant group;
· to comment on the findings and recommended
actions in the internal Report;
· to consider whether liaison arrangements were
affected by institutional racism; and
· to report with findings and recommendations
for action to the Lord Advocate and the Minister for Justice
by April 2001."
1.3 I was directed to report to the Lord Advocate and the Deputy
First Minister and Minister for Justice, Jim Wallace QC MSP.
1.4 After the announcement of the setting up of the Inquiry,
and my appointment, I set about to arrange the start of the
Inquiry as soon as possible. The extent of public disquiet,
reflected in the high level of media coverage, was clear. It
was apparent from the Internal Report submitted to the Lord
Advocate that there had been a fundamental breakdown in communication
between the Police, the Procurator Fiscal Service and the Crown
Office which had obstructed the proper approach to providing
respect, compassion and due consideration to the family and
next of kin of the deceased. Accordingly, I decided to ascertain
the facts, address the problems, and to try to offer guidelines
to restore confidence in the working of the agencies of the
criminal justice system, both for the agencies themselves and
for the public. For these reasons I decided I had to begin hearing
evidence as quickly as possible.
1.5 I have thought it appropriate to take a wide view of my
Terms of Reference, but I believe that I have not gone beyond
them. As the Inquiry progressed it became clear that, in order
for me to carry out a thorough investigation it was appropriate
to look at the circumstances surrounding the question of potential
racial motivation. I sought clarification of whether my Terms
of Reference permitted me to consider and comment upon racism
and its possible impact on the police investigation of the case.
It was agreed by the Lord Advocate and the Minister for Justice
that they did.
1.6 The length of time spent hearing evidence was dictated
by the necessity of a thorough investigation into a large number
of complex and varied matters, all of which in my opinion merited
consideration and comment in the Report. The Inquiry began taking
evidence on 18th December 2000 and finished on 15th
June 2001. Supplementary evidence on one point was taken from
a witness on 6th September 2001.
Sources of Evidence
1.7 Evidence was principally obtained through interviews with
individuals who in some way had an involvement with the circumstances
relevant to my Inquiry. From the outset it was made clear to
me that I would receive the complete co-operation of both Crown
Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Strathclyde Police
officers. This proved to be the case. I also interviewed a considerable
number of individuals outwith these organisations and all those
whom I invited to interview co-operated fully in answering the
questions which I put to them. They are listed at Appendix 13.
1.8 Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar, Surjit's widow, gave her evidence
to the Inquiry. She indicated that she preferred to give her
evidence through Mrs Kate Duffy of the PETAL organisation. I
was able therefore to put questions to her and get her views
on a number of relevant issues. I am grateful to Mrs Sanehdeep
Chhokar for assisting me and also to Mrs Kate Duffy.
1.9 I wrote to the deceased's girlfriend, Mrs Elizabeth Bryce,
by recorded delivery on several occasions at the address provided
to me. I did not receive a response to these letters although
one letter was returned indicating that it had not been uplifted
by the addressee. I am unable to say, therefore, whether Mrs
Bryce received my invitation to give evidence to the Inquiry.
She had given a number of statements to the police and the Procurator
Fiscal, evidence in both trials and made subsequent comment
in the media. I have had regard to them.
1.10 The only individuals who declined my invitation for interview
were Mr Darshan Singh Chhokar and his wife, Mrs Gurdev Kaur
Chhokar and Mr Aamer Anwar. I met with, but did not interview,
Mr and Mrs Chhokar, Mrs Manjit Sengha (their daughter) and Mr
Anwar on 16th February 2001. On 11th May
2001 they elected, under advice from their representative,
Mr Aamer Anwar, not to give evidence to the Inquiry. Mr Anwar
did not himself respond to an invitation to give evidence about
his involvement in the events that fall within the remit of
1.11 A public session was held on 21st May 2001
in Glasgow at which Mr Anwar read a statement in his capacity
as Legal Spokesperson for the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign.
Mr Chhokar also spoke at this session and I am grateful to him.
A copy of Mr Anwar's statement is contained in Appendix 6.
1.12 Both Mr and Mrs Chhokar and Mrs Sengha together with Mr
Anwar, made their positions about issues which fell within the
remit of this Inquiry well known in their public statements
to the media. I have taken them into account and put them to
relevant witnesses for comment. The family made public comments
about their treatment by and views of the criminal justice system:
these have been reported in over 600 newspaper articles.
1.13 I took written evidence from the pathologists who conducted
the post mortem examination of Surjit Singh Chhokar's body.
Their evidence was of a purely formal and procedural nature
and I did not, therefore, see a necessity to interview these
individuals. Written evidence was also taken from Detective
Inspector Kenneth MacIver who has, for the duration of my Inquiry,
been absent from duty on the grounds of ill-health. I am grateful
to him for his assistance.
1.14 I was given unrestricted access to all papers held by
the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in connection
with the death of Surjit Singh Chhokar and the related prosecutions.
These included the precognition documents and the correspondence
files from both the Procurator Fiscal's Office at Hamilton and
the Crown Office. I also obtained documents relevant to the
interim review conducted by the Regional Procurator Fiscal,
Mrs Angiolini, into the liaison arrangements with the next of
1.15 I was provided with copies of relevant guidance available
at the time of preparation of the prosecution case up to the
present date in the form of the Crown Office and Procurator
Fiscal Service Book of Regulations and Crown Office Circulars.
I also obtained information relevant to the creation and development
of the new Victim Liaison Office scheme.
1.16 I was also given access to the papers held by Strathclyde
Police in connection with the investigation of the case. These
included copies of all witness statements and case reports submitted
to the Procurator Fiscal; the Management Policy Book maintained
by the Senior Investigating Officer; and the report of an internal
review of the police investigation.
1.17 In addition, Strathclyde Police assisted greatly in providing
the Inquiry with copies of both Strathclyde and national policy
and guidance documents.
1.18 This was not a public inquiry. I had regard to what was
said by Lord Denning in his Report into the Profumo affair in
1963 (Cmnd. 2152). In approaching questions of fact I was mindful
of what he said in paragraph 8:
"When the facts are clear and beyond controversy, I will
state them as objectively as I can, irrespective of the consequences
to individuals: and I will draw any inference that is manifest
from those facts. But when the facts are in issue, I must always
remember the cardinal principle of justice - that no man is
to be condemned on suspicion. There must be evidence which proves
his guilt before he is pronounced to be so. I will therefore
take the facts in his favour rather than do an injustice which
is without remedy. For from my findings there is no appeal."
This Inquiry shares some of the features with those of Lord
Denning's Inquiry. The procedures, which I adopted, carry with
it both advantages and disadvantages, which, again, are discussed
in paragraph 5 of Lord Denning's Report. I was, of course, mindful
of the criticisms of this form of Inquiry in and of the Recommendations
of the Royal Commission on Tribunals of Inquiry, 1966, chaired
by the late Lord Salmon (Cmnd. 3121). I adopted broadly the
same approach as Lord Denning described in the passage quoted
above. Interviews with individual witnesses were conducted in
private and, with one exception (where the interview was tape-recorded),
a written record of the session was taken. Witnesses were given
the opportunity to consider their role and, where appropriate,
to check their account by reference to relevant documents. Every
witness was offered and all took the opportunity to comment
on drafts of their evidence to me. All witnesses were given
the opportunity to bring to my attention issues they thought
pertinent. Where there was substantive criticism made of individuals
or organisations by third parties, or indeed by the Inquiry,
these were put to witnesses for comment. Witnesses gave their
evidence on the understanding that it might be quoted and attributed
to them in my Report.
1.19 In drawing conclusions from the evidence given to me I
have, of course, had regard to its reliability and quality.
In particular, I have considered whether it is first hand or
not, whether it is consistent with other accounts of the same
events and whether it is corroborated or capable of independent
verification. I have also had regard to the fact that, in the
case of events which occurred in 1998, ie more than two and
a half years ago, recollections are sometimes hazy and it would
not be surprising if accounts of different individuals are not
wholly consistent with each other.
1.20 I have made extensive use of verbatim quotation of witnesses
throughout this Report. These quotations are not only for illustration
but form also an integral part of the narrative of the Report,
so that the reader may better judge the conclusions I reach
by direct inspection of the evidence.
1.21 The Terms of Reference required me to consult with Victim
Support Scotland and the Commission for Racial Equality. I met
with representatives of both organisations and am indebted to
them for the advice and assistance they provided to me. I am
also grateful to those other individuals and organisations -
and notably Victim Support Scotland - who made written submissions
to the Inquiry. They are listed at Appendix 13.
1.22 The Inquiry visited the scene of Surjit Singh Chhokar's
murder and took the opportunity to familiarise itself with the
surrounding area. I am grateful to Detective Sergeant Ian Duffy
for accommodating requests in this regard.
1.23 The Inquiry took evidence at a number of locations: Strathclyde
Police Headquarters, Glasgow; Motherwell Police Office; the
Procurator Fiscal Offices at Aberdeen, Glasgow and Hamilton;
the High Court of Justiciary at Glasgow; the offices of PETAL
in Hamilton; the offices of the now West of Scotland Racial
Equality Council, Glasgow; the East Pollokshields Multicultural
Centre, Glasgow; the Faculty of Advocates, Parliament House,
Edinburgh; and at the Inquiry's own offices in Edinburgh.
1.24 The Inquiry also visited the headquarters of Victim Support
Scotland and the offices of the Commission for Racial Equality
1.25 In this Report, the term 'ethnic minorities' is used in
a general sense to describe minority groups and communities
who share a common sense of identity based on shared culture,
language, religion, history or country of origin. This term
is used merely as convenient shorthand and its limitation is
1.26 I should like to thank Sir John Orr, Chief Constable of
Strathclyde Police until June 2001, Sir Roy Cameron, Chief Constable
of Lothian and Borders Police, and Mr. Andrew Brown, Chief Constable
of Grampian Police for their assistance in giving me access
to policy documents. I also thank others, whom I do not name,
who, at various stages, helped to ensure that the Inquiry had
all the facilities necessary to allow me to conduct my investigation
and prepare my Report. I also express here my gratitude to Alpha
Translating and Interpreting Services, Edinburgh and, in particular
to Mr Shafiq Ashraf and Mr Atiq Malik who interpreted for the
1.27 I have been assisted in carrying out my Inquiry by Elizabeth
Ramsay and Ted Davison. I am greatly indebted to them for their
conscientious application to the work of the Inquiry. They have
worked assiduously and tirelessly to help me to complete my
Inquiry within the timetable which I set myself. I offer here
my thanks and my appreciation for their work. Their wisdom and
good humour was indispensable. The Inquiry was also assisted
by Angela Ward and Lorimer Mackenzie and I am very grateful
1.28 The Report remains my sole responsibility.
2. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
2.1 Surjit Singh Chhokar was attacked by three white men and
fatally stabbed on 4th November 1998 outside his
girlfriend's home in Overtown, Wishaw. The attack was witnessed
by his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bryce. A number of individuals
went to Surjit's aid but their efforts to save his life were
2.2 The initial response by Strathclyde Police was swift and
appropriate, beginning with the human need of the victim; and
their investigation was well-focused and for the most part,
thorough. The eye-witness Elizabeth Bryce identified the primary
motive for the murder - "an argument over a giro"
- and the police gathered evidence to support that.
2.3 Immediately after Surjit was pronounced dead, police officers
went to the homes of his wife and his parents, informed them
of his death, and accompanied them as they identified the body.
Other officers looked after Surjit's children while these formalities
were attended to. This initial contact with members of the Chhokar
family was effective and sympathetic.
2.4 Three suspects - Andrew Coulter, David Montgomery and Ronnie
Coulter - were identified, and all were arrested and charged
within five days of the murder. Ronnie Coulter was brought to
trial in March 1999, convicted by the jury of assault, and set
free. The other two accused men were indicted in June 1999;
they lodged appeals on Human Rights grounds, which went ultimately
to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council; and they were
brought to trial in November 2000. David Montgomery was acquitted:
Andrew Coulter was convicted by the jury of assault.
2.5 The police investigation was efficient and effective
in tracing and arresting suspects, and gathering evidence; but
it failed to pursue the question whether the crime was racially
aggravated. The Divisional Commander himself attended the
scene of crime immediately after the murder. He noted that there
was a non-racial motive but did not dismiss from his mind the
possibility of a racial element. However he was over-ruled the
next morning (5th November 1998) when police headquarters
issued a press release containing the statement that `there
does not appear to be any racial motive involved'. On the same
morning the Head of the police Community Involvement Branch
made a telephone call to a local councillor who was, like the
Chhokar family, a Sikh to convey the same view of the crime.
The Senior Investigating Officer who took over the enquiry later
in the day also ruled racial motivation out of his consideration:
none of the victim's relatives was interviewed in connection
with the crime; when the police Family Liaison Officers reported
that a family member had asked "Was it because he was
black?" the Senior Investigating Officer dismissed
it from consideration, and nothing further was said to the family
about it, at any time.
Police family liaison
2.6 Family Liaison Officers were appointed promptly. Three
experienced officers were selected, two of whom had a strong
background in police work with minority ethnic communities:
the third was already acquainted with the Chhokar family. The
officers were briefed for their role; visited the family several
times in the first few days and gave relevant and helpful information,
including victim support literature. The possible need for interpreters
was anticipated, and two Punjabi-speaking officers were put
on standby for this; the Family Liaison Officers offered this
service but it was declined. The officers judged that interpreters
would not be needed, on the basis that Mr Chhokar had some conversational
English and his daughter and daughter-in-law were fluent in
English. Family liaison was confined to the Chhokar family:
the police viewed Mrs Bryce as a witness only, and offered her
no liaison service.
2.7 The police were taken by surprise to learn that Sikh custom
requires that a body be cremated and does not condone burial.
They foresaw a problem, in that in a homicide case the victim's
body would generally be released by the Procurator Fiscal for
burial only; but their lines of communication with the Procurator
Fiscal's Office were confused, there was delay in getting clearance
for cremation of the body, and further delay - over a weekend
- in getting this information to the family. At one point the
police advised the family to contact the Procurator Fiscal themselves.
Needless and avoidable distress was caused to the family.
2.8 The police enquiry was finished and the Incident Room closed
down on 17th November; and Surjit Singh Chhokar's
funeral was held on 18th November. Thereafter Mr
Chhokar was given contact details for any queries he might have,
but the police took no further initiative to make contact. Mr
Chhokar telephoned to ask about the date for the trial, and
was told when the sitting would commence. Liaison continued
with Surjit's widow, Sanehdeep, however, at her request, until
she let the police know she had no further need for it.
2.9 After the trial of Ronnie Coulter, when the outcome of
the case and the judge's public comments on it became national
news, the Family Liaison Officers were instructed to visit Mr
Chhokar. By this time the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign had
been launched, and the police were taken by surprise to find
Aamer Anwar present with the family. Mr Anwar had a number of
questions relating mainly to the prosecution, which the police
were not able to answer on the spot, and the officers withdrew
from the meeting. They made some attempt to get a list of Mr
Anwar's questions, but abandoned liaison with the family at
that point and did nothing to try to repair their relationship
The Procurator Fiscal's Office
2.10 In the Hamilton Procurator Fiscal's Office the case
was passed to a Depute who had neither experience nor training
to handle a murder case, and was not adequately supervised.
In innocence, he made critical mistakes in relation to the
family, which went unrecognised until it was too late to retrieve
the situation. Overlooking information which could have
been gleaned from the documents, in particular the Sudden Death
Report, he identified Mr Chhokar and Mrs Bryce as next of kin
and ignored Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar, until her interest was brought
to his notice by PETAL, a self-help group to which she had turned
for assistance; and he gave no priority to making contact with
Mr Chhokar. At the trial itself he had only fleeting contact
with the family on the first day, and nobody from the Procurator
Fiscal's Office was present at all during the later stages of
the trial. The consequence was that at the end of the trial
there was nobody on hand to explain to the family why only one
of three accused had been in the dock, or why the accused was
2.11 Publicity and political pressure after the trial galvanised
the Crown Office. The Regional Procurator Fiscal was instructed
to meet the family, but was not able to give them satisfactory
answers to their questions, and showed little sensitivity to
their point of view. The following month, April 1999, the family,
accompanied by supporters from the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign
and with attendant publicity, travelled to Edinburgh and sought
a meeting with the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate considered
it would not be proper for him to meet the family until all
proceedings were at an end, but instructed the Deputy Crown
Agent to meet the family and supporters and to report back to
him. The Deputy Crown Agent made a genuine attempt to communicate
with the family and to explain matters to them, through an interpreter
whom they had brought with them; but he was unable to do so
satisfactorily, due to the intervention of Mr Anwar, who took
on himself the role of interpreter as well as leader of the
2.12 Thereafter the Crown Office itself took responsibility
for liaison with Surjit's parents and sister, and took pains
to ensure that they were informed of progress at each stage.
However it was left to the Hamilton office to maintain contact
with Sanehdeep Chhokar, who took no part in the Campaign and
distanced herself from it; and the Hamilton office was not kept
fully informed by Crown Office, with the result that when the
other two accused were indicted, Mrs Chhokar learned of it only
when her (and Surjit's) daughter saw it announced on television.
2.13 During subsequent proceedings, in particular the Privy
Council hearings, Crown Office arranged full liaison with the
other family members, with which they were well satisfied.
2.14 Meticulous preparations were made for liaison at the
second trial, including provision of a team of independent interpreters
for the family, and the arrangements were conscientiously carried
through. However the efforts of the Depute responsible for
liaison were impeded and disrupted by interventions by the Campaign
leader and spokesman, Mr Anwar, who made misguided attempts
to influence the conduct of the prosecution. The Crown Office
was obliged to take steps to resist these. After the trial,
the Lord Advocate met the family.
Racism, and institutional racism
2.15 There is abundant evidence of racism in Scotland. Most
of the evidence is anecdotal, though there has been some systematic
research. There is a need for more research, professionally
2.16 The concept of institutional racism has been much discussed,
and its definition much debated. For the purposes of this Report
the criterion adopted is that -
Institutional racism occurs wherever the service provided
by an organisation fails - whether deliberately or not - to
meet equally the needs of all the people whom it serves, having
regard to their racial, ethnic or cultural background.
2.17 The view taken in this Report is that institutional racism
is a disorder in an organisation, which is likely to occur from
time to time, in greater or less degree, and has to be tackled
whenever it occurs or recurs. As such, it is an ailment which
is curable, and the cure may be more or less effective, and
more or less permanent.
2.18 Measured against that criterion, there was evidence
of institutional racism, notably in the failure of the police
to consider racial aggravation as a factor in their investigation
of the crime; but also in the unpreparedness of police and Procurator
Fiscal to respond readily to the requirement of cremation in
Sikh funeral customs; and in the failure of the Procurator Fiscal's
Office to recognise that a person such as Mr Chhokar could have
difficulty in coping with correspondence in English, and their
slowness to realise the need for interpreters.
2.19 Under Ministerial leadership, first from Lord Hardie
and continued under the present Lord Advocate, the Crown Office
and Procurator Fiscal Service have taken systematic action to
eradicate institutional racism. A Race Strategy Action Plan
was approved in June 1999, a foundational training seminar held
in September of that year, and a training programme rolled out
to the whole Service between September 1999 and May 2000, with
input from Racial Equality Councils and other local community
groups. Anti-racist training is also to be built into existing
training courses. A Race Strategy Group, chaired by the Solicitor
General, started work in July 2000, with a wide-ranging agenda
including: recruitment from ethnic minorities; a review of reports
of racial crime and Crown prosecution policy; relations with
the Commission for Racial Equality and Racial Equality Councils;
interpreters; establishment of regional resource teams to co-ordinate
race strategy; research; and secondments.
2.20 This Inquiry did not extend to the police service in Scotland
as a whole, but was concerned with Strathclyde Police.
The first Multi-Agency Racial Incident Monitoring (MARIM) group
was formed in 1987; the first Race Relations Policy and first
race relations training appeared in 1989; a `Policing a Multi-Racial
Society' training programme began in 1992, for officers between
Sergeant and Chief Inspector ranks, and continues still; a revised
Race Relations Policy was produced in 1997; and a guidance document
`Religion, Culture and Sensitivities' was produced in late 1999
and issued to the entire Force. At the national level, ACPOS
published a Racial Diversity Strategy in March 2000. These developments
are commended: what remains to be realised is the translation
of those policies into action by every individual police officer.
Only when that is achieved will minority communities gain confidence
that they are being policed fairly.
2.21 The Inquiry heard vivid evidence about the experiences
and perceptions of the relatives of murder victims - who are
themselves, in effect, victims - when a case comes to trial.
No one agency can supply all their needs, for comfort in grief,
moral support, practical advice and guidance, and intelligible
explanation of the processes of criminal investigation, prosecution
and trial. There are tasks for voluntary and self-help groups
as well as for the public authorities, and there is a need for
these various agencies to be co-ordinated. The work of Victim
Support Scotland (VSS) is particularly noted. Recent developments
are also noted and welcomed: the publication in 2000 of the
Scottish Executive's Strategy for Victims; and the issue in
July 2000 of a new chapter of the Crown Office and Procurator
Fiscal Service Book of Regulations, which sets out the duties
of Procurators Fiscal to victims, next of kin and witnesses,
gives instructions about helping witnesses and others who may
be unfamiliar with court proceedings and anxious; spells out
the duty of the prosecution to ensure that the court is informed
about the effect of the crime on the victim; and gives new and
very specific directions about contacting next of kin. Most
significantly, the development of a Victim Liaison Office pilot
scheme, which is to be rolled out to each region, is described
2.22 Recent developments in police family liaison are also
reviewed and welcomed, specifically: the issue of ACPOS guidance
on good practice; the introduction of a national training course
for Family Liaison Officers; and the introduction of the `Family
Liaison Log', an operational document designed to ensure that
appropriate contacts are made and the details duly recorded
for the Senior Investigating Officer. Monitoring of these developments
is recommended, and in particular that HM Inspectorate of Constabulary
make it an early priority to conduct a thematic inspection of
family liaison, and that Justice Ministers give special attention
to the report of that inspection.
2.23 Here and throughout the Report the need for much closer
and more systematic liaison between police and Procurator Fiscal
at all stages of a case is stressed. Much of the neglect of
the Chhokar family in the lead up to and during the first trial
might have been averted if there had been systematic communication
between the police and the Procurator Fiscal.
2.24 Other relevant issues are reviewed in summary chapters
on interpreters and on legal education and training.
The latter is an issue for the entire legal profession, and
for the university Law Schools.
2.25 This Inquiry was instructed to review the Crown Office
internal report, which was commissioned by the Lord Advocate,
and published in November 2000. The report was originally prepared
as a confidential document, but was published before it had
been completed. The methodology was inadequate, and this Inquiry
has not relied on the internal report, but has gone back to
the primary sources. The conclusions however, which are reviewed
in detail, largely accord with the findings of this Inquiry.
2.26 Strathclyde Police also commissioned an internal review
of their handling of the criminal investigation in this case,
in 1999. This is an unpublished document, but the Inquiry has
been given access to it and has examined it critically. The
remit given to the reviewing officer was vague and unfocused,
and the review itself lacked rigour. In particular, the reviewing
officer made the same mistake as the Senior Investigating Officer,
in discounting and failing adequately to investigate the question
of racial aggravation, or the racial aspect of the case altogether.
Reviews conducted on such lines can do nothing to build confidence
that the police are sufficiently focused, even yet, on racial
issues. Recommendations are made for the conduct of future reviews
Conclusions and recommendations
2.27 Parallels which have been drawn between this case and
the Stephen Lawrence case are misleading. Surjit Singh Chhokar
was not picked on at random by a gang who did not know him:
at least one of his assailants was an associate of his, who
had a non-racial motive for attacking him. His girlfriend, who
was an eye-witness, did not see it as a racist attack; neither
did his wife. The police officers who came to the scene made
it their first priority to save his life, if they could.
2.28 Elements of institutional racism are found in the organisation
and procedures both of Strathclyde Police and the Procurator
Fiscal Service. They are curable; and there are encouraging
signs that steps are being taken to cure them, and that progress
has been made even in the intervening years since Surjit Singh
was murdered. The recommendations of this Report are tempered
by that. The cardinal principles which must underlie further
steps towards reform are -
· Public confidence in the police and prosecution
authorities is an essential feature of a criminal justice system
that values justice and liberty in a democratic society.
· The processes of the criminal justice system
should treat all victims and witnesses with courtesy, compassion
and respect for their personal dignity; and should be responsive
to their needs.
2.29 The principal recommendations of this Report are as follows
2.30 An Inspectorate of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal
Service should be established, headed by an independent InspectorThe
Quality and Practice Review Unit of the Crown Office should
be reinforced and reconstituted as a support unit to Inspectorate
with an independent element. The Inspectorate's reports, like
those of other Inspectorates, should be made public.
2.31 The Crown Office Inspectorate should conduct a thematic
inspection of the Service's response on race matters, reporting
to Ministers through the Race Strategy Group, within the next
two to three years.
2.32 The police should make it their priority now to translate
the policies which they have developed into guidance for the
Force which is operationally based and gives practical instructions
to police officers. In doing so the police should rely on and
develop partnership links with other bodies, both statutory
and voluntary, through organisations such as the MARIM groups
and Racial Equality Councils.
2.33 HM Inspectorate of Constabulary should make it an early
priority to conduct a thematic inspection of family liaison,
and Justice Ministers should give special attention to the report
of that inspection.
2.34 There must be a more structured system of communication
and liaison between the Procurator Fiscal and the police, from
the earliest stages of an investigation right through to trial,
and in particular with police Family Liaison Officers.
2.35 There is also a need for systematic communication, co-operation
and exchange of ideas between the prosecution service and the
police at the most senior levels.
2.36 Specific recommendations made at points throughout the
Report are summarised at the end of the final chapter.
3. THE MURDER
This chapter describes the circumstances of the murder of Surjit
Singh Chhokar. It also describes his family connections.
3.1 Descriptions of the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar on 4th
November 1998 have been given in evidence in two criminal trials,
reports of which have appeared in many newspapers and television
programmes. Only two direct eyewitness accounts of the attack
have been given, one by Mrs Elizabeth Bryce, with whom Surjit
had been living, and one by a neighbour of Mrs Bryce who was
unable to identify any of the perpetrators.
3.2 Much of the following sequence of events has been reconstructed
using the information contained in the statements given by witnesses
to the police following the murder and in precognition statements
given to the Procurator Fiscal. I have also taken evidence from
the first police officers to arrive at the scene of the attack
and have read the post mortem report prepared by the forensic
Surjit Singh Chhokar
3.3 Surjit Singh Chhokar was 32 years old (date of birth
11 April 1966) when he was murdered on 4th November
1998. He was an Indian citizen who came to the United Kingdom
as a child in 1975 with his mother and sister. His father, Darshan
Singh Chhokar, was already living in the United Kingdom having
arrived a few years earlier.
3.4 Surjit was separated from his wife Sanehdeep Chhokar with
whom he had two children who lived with their mother in
Lawhill Road, Law.
3.5 Surjit was involved in a relationship with his girlfriend
Mrs Elizabeth Bryce for about six years. At the time of his
murder Surjit had been living for approximately three/four months
with her in Garrion Street, Overtown, Wishaw.
3.6 He also had a tenancy, until the day of his death, at 65
Caplaw Tower, Gowkthrapple, Wishaw. He moved there in or about
April/May 1998 but decided to live with Elizabeth Bryce after
his flat had been broken into in July or August of that year.
Elizabeth Bryce told the police that Surjit did not feel comfortable
living in the flat following the break-in.
3.7 Surjit's parents Darshan Singh Chhokar and Gurdev Kaur
Chhokar also live in North Lanarkshire.
3.8 His sister Mrs Manjit Sengha lives in Bishopbriggs,
Glasgow. Surjit's `family' is described in the family tree:
The Murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar
3.9 On the morning of Wednesday 4th November 1998,
Surjit Singh Chhokar and Elizabeth Bryce drove from her house
at Garrion Street to Surjit's flat at 65 Caplaw Tower in order
to uplift his fortnightly state benefit girocheque. He went
into the flat while Mrs Bryce waited in the car. He returned
after a short time, telling Mrs Bryce that the flat had been
broken into and the girocheque was not there. They thought that
the postman might have retained the girocheque because the front
door of the flat was insecure.
3.10 The couple later went to the Job Centre in Kirk Road,
Wishaw. Again, Mrs Bryce waited in the car while Surjit went
inside to report the matter. After approximately twenty minutes,
Surjit emerged and explained to Mrs Bryce that the girocheque
had been cashed earlier that day by Andrew Coulter who was known
to both Mrs Bryce and Surjit.
3.11 The couple then went to the Housing Office in Gowkthrapple
to report the housebreaking. The office was closed between 1300
and 1400 hours so Surjit and Elizabeth Bryce went for lunch
together and Surjit also had his hair cut. Shortly after 1400
hours the couple went back to the Housing Office. Surjit also
completed forms to terminate his occupancy of the flat at Caplaw
Tower. They then went back to Elizabeth Bryce's home in Garrion
3.12 Surjit left there at approximately 1500 hours to drive
to work at the New Poonam restaurant in Bellshill. He did not
report the housebreaking or the fraudulent encashment of the
girocheque to the police. Mrs Bryce did not speak to any agency
at the time.
3.13 Some time after 1500 hours that afternoon, Mrs Bryce went
to the home of Andrew Coulter's mother, Margaret Chisholm. It
was a walk of less than three or four minutes from her own home
in Garrion Street. She wanted to find Andrew Coulter and confront
him about the girocheque. She had known Mrs Chisholm for a number
of years. Mrs Chisholm told her that Andrew Coulter did not
live there any more. Mrs Bryce told her about the theft of Surjit's
girocheque. In her statement to the police, Mrs Chisholm said
that Mrs Bryce had told her to warn Andrew that the police would
be `round to see him' regarding the stolen girocheque. Mrs Bryce
then returned home.
3.14 Approximately five minutes later, Mrs Chisholm went to
Mrs Bryce's home in Garrion Street. Andrew Coulter and his sister
arrived shortly afterwards in Garrion Street. Andrew Coulter
told Mrs Bryce that "Chhokar" had given him the girocheque
that morning and had asked him to cash it at the post office.
He said that Surjit had given him £20 for doing so. Mrs
Bryce told Andrew Coulter that the police would probably become
involved. It was alleged that Andrew Coulter retorted, "If
that's the case, he'll be getting it".
3.15 Mrs Chisholm returned to her home with Andrew Coulter
and his sister. Mrs Bryce followed them there about 10 minutes
later. She asked Andrew Coulter about the money Surjit had allegedly
given for cashing the girocheque. Mrs Bryce told Andrew Coulter
to come to her house some time after 2300 hours, by which time
Surjit would be home from work, in order that the matter could
3.16 At approximately 2330 hours Surjit Singh Chhokar returned
from work and parked his motor car outside Mrs Bryce's house.
He was unaware of the discussions that had taken place between
Elizabeth Bryce, Andrew Coulter and his mother. Mrs Bryce saw
him from the window, he smiled at her and she saw that he was
carrying a take-away meal and a bottle of 'Irn Bru'. He walked
towards the gate leading to the door of the house.
3.17 After a few minutes, Mrs Bryce heard screaming from outside
her home and knew that it was Surjit. She looked out of the
window and saw Surjit being assaulted by three white males on
the footpath near to his motor car. She ran out of her house
and shouted, "Fuckin' leave him alone you bastards".
By this time the men had dragged Surjit across to the other
side of the road and were pulling his arms and clothing. Surjit
was attempting to keep his arms at his body. He tried to resist
his attackers but his arms were repeatedly pulled by his assailants.
Mrs Bryce shouted, "Andrew Coulter, I'm getting the
fuckin' polis for you". One of the attackers then ran
off. At that point another of the men raised his arm and appeared
to swing something at Surjit. According to Mrs Bryce this object
was possibly a belt or a chain approximately two feet in length.
The two remaining men also ran off down a lane leading to Main
Street, Overtown. Surjit staggered across the road towards Mrs
Bryce and said to her, "I've been stabbed",
before collapsing over his motor car and on to the footpath.
3.18 A number of individuals went to the assistance of Surjit,
including a gas technician who had been called out nearby and
several neighbours, one of whom had called the emergency services
at 2336 hours. Witnesses indicated that Surjit was bleeding
heavily from wounds to his stomach and chest. The gas technician
and a neighbour tried to stop the bleeding. The neighbour was
holding Surjit's head and asked him who had done this to him.
Surjit tried to answer but it was not possible to make out what
he had said. Mrs Bryce had gone into the house and came back
with a blanket and a pillow. Surjit was by this time unconscious.
3.19 The police arrived within three minutes of the '999' call.
Constables John Maclean and David Rattray entered Garrion Street
and observed an injured male on the ground. As PC Maclean approached
the male he recognised him as Surjit Singh Chhokar, who was
known to him. PC Maclean tried to assist Surjit. He attempted
to locate a pulse but could not do so. Surjit was totally unresponsive.
The gas technician indicated to PC Rattray that he believed
Surjit had been stabbed in the chest. PC Rattray looked for
other wounds but was unable to ascertain whether there were
any due to the large amount of blood. He exerted pressure on
Surjit's wounds in an attempt to stem the flow of blood.
3.20 An ambulance arrived at 2343 hours, seven minutes after
the '999' call. The two paramedics observed that Surjit had
been stabbed in the abdomen and left chest areas. He was not
breathing, had no pulse and displayed no vital signs. Cardio-pulmonary
resuscitation was administered by the paramedics to no avail.
3.21 Surjit was taken by ambulance from Garrion Street to Law
Hospital, a journey which took approximately four minutes. Mrs
Bryce and PC David Rattray accompanied him in the ambulance.
Surjit was examined upon arrival and found to have sustained
a stab wound to the abdomen, a stab wound to the top of the
abdomen and a further stab wound to the left front chest. He
was administered adrenaline and resuscitation attempts were
continued unsuccessfully. Surjit Singh Chhokar was pronounced
dead at 0007 hours on Thursday 5th November.
3.22 A post mortem examination was carried out on the afternoon
of 5th November 1998. Surjit had sustained a total
of three stab wounds to the front of his body. One of these
wounds, to the upper abdomen, had severed the right coronary
artery, resulting in massive haemorrhage, and had also penetrated
the diaphragm and the liver. Surjit would have bled very heavily
and quickly. In the opinion of the forensic pathologists, this
was the fatal wound. Dr Jeannette McFarlane, Consultant Pathologist,
has stated, "This is not a wound you would realistically
expect him to survive even with treatment". The total
depth of this wound was approximately nine centimetres. Of the
other two wounds, one had penetrated the chest and pericardial
sac but had not injured any major structures. The other wound
had penetrated the abdomen and nicked the transverse colon.
This wound was also potentially life threatening. The total
depth of this wound was approximately 11 centimetres.
3.23 In addition, there were small superficial incised wounds
to the left side of Surjit's nose, around his left ear and his
left thigh. There was a laceration to his scalp, which, in the
opinion of the forensic pathologists, was consistent with him
striking his head on the ground.
The significance of the murder
3.24 No murder is insignificant: for those who are bereaved
by murder, the event is overwhelming. Surjit's young daughters,
his wife, his girlfriend, his parents and his sister have suffered
a heartbreaking loss, which can never be made good.
3.25 Three men have stood trial for this murder. All were acquitted
of murder although two were convicted of assault. Surjit's family
are critical of the manner in which they were dealt with by
the criminal justice system. The extent of public disquiet,
reflected in the high level of media coverage, was clear.
4. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This chapter sets out the procedural history of the
cases against the suspects. It necessarily uses some technical
terms: a glossary of terms is given in Appendix 16, and a brief
description of the procedures involved in criminal proceedings
of this nature is outlined in Appendix 14. The complete terms
of the indictments in respect of Ronnie Coulter, David Montgomery
and Andrew Coulter are set out in Appendix 1.
4.1 Surjit Singh Chhokar was attacked on 4th
4.2 Police enquiries identified three suspects: Andrew Coulter,
David Montgomery and Ronnie Coulter. All were arrested and charged
by the police within five days of Surjit's murder. All appeared
on Petition at Hamilton Sheriff Court charged with murder; Andrew
Coulter on 6th November 1998, David Montgomery on
9th November 1998 and Ronnie Coulter on 10th
November 1998. All were committed for further examination.
4.3 Andrew Coulter was scheduled to be fully committed, if
appropriate, on 13th November 1998. Full committal
proceedings, if appropriate, in respect of Ronnie Coulter and
David Montgomery were scheduled for 17th November
4.4 On 13th November 1998, instructions were
issued by Crown Counsel to fully commit Ronnie Coulter alone
on a charge of murder and to liberate Andrew Coulter and David
Montgomery meantime. The position in respect of these accused
was to be kept under review during the precognition of the case.
Ronnie Coulter was fully committed on 17th November
1998. An accused person charged with murder could not, at that
time, apply for bail1 and,
accordingly, Ronnie Coulter was remanded in custody. Where an
accused has been fully committed and is in custody, his/her
trial must be commenced within 110 days of the date of full
committal proceedings. The 110-day time bar in the case of Ronnie
Coulter was 6th March 1999.
4.5 The precognition was submitted by the Procurator Fiscal's
Office at Hamilton to Crown Office on 19th January
1999. It was considered by Crown Counsel who instructed,
on the same day, that Ronnie Coulter was to be indicted in the
High Court on a charge of murder. Following instruction from
Crown Counsel, Crown Office advised the Hamilton office that
the position regarding David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter would
be reviewed following the trial of Ronnie Coulter.
4.6 Ronnie Coulter was indicted to the sitting of the High
Court at Glasgow commencing 1st March 1999. The trial
took place on 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 9 March 1999 before Lord McCluskey.
At the conclusion of the trial the jury convicted Ronnie Coulter
of assaulting Surjit Singh Chhokar in that he did "seize
hold of his body, struggle with him, strike him on the body".
The reference to "murder" was deleted by the jury.
The Crown did not move for sentence.
4.7 The police were thereafter instructed to make further enquiries
and certain witnesses were reprecognosced. Ronnie Coulter was
precognosced on oath by the Regional Procurator Fiscal at Hamilton.
The Deputy Crown Agent re-reported the case to the Law Officers
on 21st June 1999.
4.8 On 28th June 1999 instructions were issued
to indict both Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery in respect
of the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar. In addition, Andrew Coulter
was charged with housebreaking and stealing a cooker and a girocheque
from Surjit's flat. He was also charged with uttering the stolen
girocheque at the post office and receiving £100.70. David
Montgomery was also charged with attempting to pervert the course
of justice by seeking to destroy forensic or other evidence
linking him or his car to the murder.
4.9 The case against David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter was
originally indicted to the High Court sitting at Glasgow commencing
16th August 1999. The case was adjourned to the sittings
of 13th September and 22nd November 1999
and 10th January, 14th February, 10th
April, 5th June and 31st July 2000 as
a result of the devolution issues2
raised and appeals ultimately to the Judicial Committee of the
4.10 Devolution issue minutes were served by both Andrew Coulter
and David Montgomery in early August 1999. In these minutes
the defence claimed that each accused's right to a fair trial
in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights had been
breached as a result of prejudicial pre-trial publicity and
the failure to bring all three accused to trial together.
4.11 At a hearing on 24th August 1999, Lord
Abernethy ruled that additions to the original devolution minutes
lodged by the accused should be allowed. Leave to appeal was
granted to the Crown. On 14th September 1999 the
Appeal Court refused the Crown appeal and remitted the matter
to the High Court for a hearing on the merits of the devolution
minutes. On 7th September 1999 a four-day hearing
on the devolution minutes took place before Lord Kirkwood. On
24th September 1999 the devolution minutes were refused.
Leave to appeal was granted to the defence and the Appeal Court
hearing in respect of Lord Kirkwood's decision took place on
15th and 16th November 1999. The appeals
were refused and written reasons for the Court's decision became
available in late December 1999. On 14th January
2000 leave to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy
Council was granted to the defence by the Appeal Court and,
in due course, a hearing was fixed for 19th and 20th
4.12 Relatives of Surjit Singh Chhokar, and Mr Aamer Anwar,
attended every diet in the progress of the devolution minutes.
4.13 After hearing parties on 19th and 20th
July 2000, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council refused
the appeal and intimated that written reasons would be issued
in due course. These were not made available until 19th
4.14 On 26th July 2000 a hearing was convened
at the High Court in Edinburgh before Lady Paton to hear defence
arguments to have the trial of Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery
postponed until the Judicial Committee's written judgment became
available. The Court adjourned the case to the sitting of the
High Court commencing 28th August 2000 but indicated
the case should not proceed to trial until the written reasons
were available. Accordingly, the case had to be adjourned to
sittings of the High Court at Glasgow commencing 9th
and 23rd October 2000.
4.15 Although the written judgment became available on 19th
October 2000, the Chhokar family indicated that they would prefer
the case to proceed on a definite date some weeks ahead rather
than face the uncertainty of the case calling at the earliest
possible date. The family also asked that the trial take place
after the second anniversary of Surjit Singh Chhokar's murder.
The defence were agreeable to an adjournment of the trial to
the sitting of the High Court at Glasgow commencing 6th
4.16 The trial of David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter took
place on 10, 13, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27 and 28 November
2000 before Lord Bonomy. At the conclusion of the evidence,
a no-case-to-answer submission by David Montgomery's Counsel
was upheld in respect of the charge of attempting to pervert
the course of justice. The jury acquitted David Montgomery of
the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar. Andrew Coulter was convicted
of housebreaking and of uttering the stolen girocheque. In respect
of the murder charge, Andrew Coulter was found guilty of assault
by striking Surjit Singh Chhokar repeatedly with a piece of
wood or metal. The reference to "murder" was deleted
by the jury and, accordingly, Andrew Coulter was also acquitted
of the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar.
4.17 Contempt of court proceedings were instituted in respect
of two Crown witnesses, one being Ronnie Coulter, who gave evidence
at the trial of David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter. I did not
feel it appropriate to consider as part of this Inquiry proceedings
related to the case which were ongoing following the setting-up
of my Inquiry on 29th November 2000.
5. THE POLICE ENQUIRY
This chapter describes the steps taken by the police during
the investigation of the murder. It considers the initial actions
of the police, subsequent enquiries and the structure of the
enquiry team. It also comments on the availability of resources
for the investigation.
5.1 Surjit Singh Chhokar was attacked in Garrion Street, Overtown
at approximately 2330 hours on 4th November 1998.
The Command and Control Incident Log maintained at Force Control,
Strathclyde Police Headquarters, Glasgow and at the Control
Room, Motherwell Police Office in respect of the incident details
the early responses of Strathclyde Police. Further records are
to be found in the Management Policy Book.3
5.2 An anonymous '999' call was received at 2336 hours at Force
Control, Pitt Street, Glasgow, summoning the police and ambulance
services. The caller indicated that a male had been stabbed
and was lying in the street. By 2338 hours an ambulance had
been instructed to attend by an officer at Force Control. Police
officers were instructed via the police radio to attend at Garrion
Street in response to the call. Constables John Maclean and
David Rattray drove from nearby Castlehill Road and were the
first police officers to arrive at the scene at 2339 hours.
5.3 Constables Maclean and Rattray immediately administered
first aid. PC Maclean (who recognised Surjit as a person he
had arrested some 18 months earlier for breach of the peace
and assaulting a police officer) sought to locate a pulse but
could not do so. He found Surjit "totally unresponsive".
PC Rattray exerted pressure on Surjit's wounds to stem the flow
of blood; and he looked for other wounds.
5.4 PC Rattray spoke with Elizabeth Bryce to find out what
had happened. He observed that she was "relatively lucid,
not hysterical but certainly in shock". She told him
that Surjit had come home from work and that three men, whom
she had seen in the street earlier that evening, attacked him
as he got out of his motor car. Mrs Bryce named Andrew Coulter
as one of those responsible. The ambulance arrived within five
minutes of being instructed. In the meantime CID officers had
been advised of the incident. The first detective officer to
arrive at Garrion Street was Detective Constable James Dyas
at 2350 hours. He was made aware of the information Mrs Bryce
had given to PC Rattray.
5.5 PC Rattray went with Surjit and Mrs Bryce in the ambulance
to Law Hospital, a drive of approximately four minutes. PC Rattray
has told me that he went with the couple in order to maintain
the chain of evidence as Mrs Bryce had already named one of
the men involved in the attack. He noted a brief statement from
Mrs Bryce while they were travelling in the ambulance to the
hospital. The statement is noted in PC Rattray's notebook as
"Surjit was coming in from his work at 11.30(pm). I
was looking out of the window when I saw 3 guys pull Surjit
up in the street. He was trying to get away from them. One
of the boys was Andrew Coulter of Gowkthrapple. I've known
him from when he was a wee boy. He and the other two had been
stoatin' about all night. He was wearing a skipped hat and
a bubble jacket. I ran out of the house and saw Surjit collapse
against the car. A boy stopped his van and I asked if he had
a phone. The three boys had run off along the street towards
Overtown. The boy from the van helped Surjit. One of [the
neighbours] came out and then the police arrived."
5.6 PC Maclean remained in Garrion Street and began to secure
the murder scene. He placed tape around Surjit's car and the
street was blocked off. He also recovered items of potential
evidential value, namely an electronic key fob and an 'Irn Bru'
bottle. At 0003 hours on 5th November 1998 DC Dyas
requested that Scene of Crime Officers attend. A police photographer
was also requested. DC Dyas then immediately made his way to
5.7 At 0007 hours on 5th November 1998 Surjit Singh
Chhokar was pronounced dead. Elizabeth Bryce, who was still
accompanied by PC Rattray was informed of this at 0008 hours.
Within a minute of Surjit being pronounced dead, PC Rattray
recorded in his notebook Mrs Bryce's words as "an argument
over a giro".
5.8 PC Rattray stayed with Mrs Bryce at Law Hospital until
0054 hours, when two CID officers took her to Wishaw Police
Office to obtain a factual statement about the events preceding
Surjit's death. PC Rattray examined Surjit's body and noted
three stab wounds to the chest area and one cut on the leg.
PC Maclean joined his colleague PC Rattray at Law Hospital at
5.9 DC Dyas made his way to the homes of Mr Darshan Singh Chhokar
(Surjit's father) and Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar (Surjit's wife),
informed them of Surjit's death and thereafter took them to
Law Hospital. They arrived at 0215 hours and identified his
body. Details of this initial police contact with the family
of Surjit Singh Chhokar are given in Chapter 8.
5.10 At approximately 0330 hours Surjit's body was taken from
Law Hospital to Glasgow City Mortuary and was escorted by Constables
Maclean and Rattray who had previously taken possession of his
clothing and personal belongings from hospital staff.
5.11 At 0017 hours, the Divisional Commander, Chief Superintendent
Sandy Forrest, was informed of the incident by the Duty Officer
at Motherwell. By 0034 hours the on-call
Procurator Fiscal Depute from the Procurator Fiscal's Office
at Hamilton, Mr John Slowey, had been informed of the incident.
By 0036 hours Divisional Commander Forrest, Acting Detective
Chief Inspector William Anderson (who was the DCI for 'P' Division
in which the murder took place and would initially become the
Senior Investigating Officer), Detective Inspector Nicholson
and the Procurator Fiscal Depute had arrived at Motherwell Police
Office. All went to the scene of the murder at Garrion Street.
Mr Forrest arrived at 0040 hours, Mr Slowey at 0120 hours and
Acting DCI Anderson at 0215 hours. During this time other detective
officers were in attendance in Garrion Street, along with the
Forensic Scientist and Scene of Crime Officers. The police,
while protecting the crime scene, maintained a log of persons
entering and leaving the street.
5.12 Within two hours of the murder, staff from the Forensic
Science Laboratory and the Identification Bureau made their
way to Wishaw Police Office and then to Garrion Street. Bloodstaining
was "lifted" from various locations there and the
area was photographed and video-recorded. Following completion
of the forensic examinations at lunchtime on 5th
November 1998, the police arranged for Cleansing Department
staff to attend at Garrion Street and clean the blood from the
kerb and gutter.
5.13 The police conducted an early search of Garrion Street
and the surrounding area. A further search was conducted during
daylight hours on 5th November. The murder weapon
was not recovered. Additionally the drains in the area were
searched with the assistance of the Cleansing Department.
5.14 At approximately 0430 hours on 5th November
officers made arrangements for Surjit's motor car to be removed
to the special unit at Paisley Police Office for examination
by the Identification Bureau and Forensic Laboratory staff.
A motor car driven by the suspect David Montgomery was also
subsequently removed to Paisley for examination.
5.15 Police officers went to the home of Andrew Coulter's mother,
Mrs Margaret Chisholm, in an attempt to trace the suspect. At
approximately 0520 hours on 5th November officers
attended at the home address of Andrew Coulter in Caplaw Tower,
Gowkthrapple. The officers forced entry to the flat and seized
paperwork and clothing. The Procurator Fiscal was consulted
regarding the requirement for a warrant
to authorise the seizure of these items.
5.16 At 1130 hours on 5th November, Cleansing Department
lorries which had emptied the bins at Caplaw Tower earlier that
morning were intercepted by police officers and the contents
removed for examination.
The Major Incident Room and Major Enquiry Team Structure
5.17 At approximately 0100 hours on 5th November
1998, Acting DCI William Anderson took the decision to set up
a Major Incident Room at Wishaw Police Office, being the nearest
police office to the scene of the murder. The Incident Room
controls the information in an enquiry and, as a result of the
information received, officers within the Incident Room will
consider and raise further actions to be taken in the investigation.
The Incident Room was to operate on the Manual Index system,
as opposed to the computer-based system, HOLMES.4
Detective Superintendent Jeanette Joyce, who conducted a review
of the police enquiry, explained in her evidence to this Inquiry
that a HOLMES Incident Room would not be set up in an enquiry
such as the one following the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar.
"In a category C murder case where the identity of
the suspect is known and you are following a positive line
of enquiry a manual incident room would be set up. If the
identity of the offender is known you would not set up a HOLMES
A category C murder is ... one where the identity of the
offenders is known at an early stage. A category A murder
is one of grave public concern, for example, the murder of
a child or a politician. A category B murder is where the
identity of the offender is not readily known."
5.18 The Major Incident Room was staffed by six officers, including
the three officers also identified as Family Liaison Officers.
The Incident Room was in operation from 5th to 17th
5.19 The Incident Room forms one part of the structure of a
major enquiry team. The structure of the enquiry team in respect
of this investigation is shown in the following diagram.
Subsequent Police Investigation
5.20 Elizabeth Bryce was the main witness to the attack on
Surjit Singh Chhokar. She was known to Detective Inspector Kenneth
MacIver (who was responsible for the Wishaw Sub-Division) with
whom she had had dealings following the death of her son. She
immediately named Andrew Coulter as being one of those responsible
for the attack. Mrs Bryce knew both Ronnie Coulter and Andrew
Coulter through Andrew Coulter's mother, whom Mrs Bryce had
known for many years. The police suspected that Mrs Bryce was
withholding information. She was interviewed by police officers
on a number of occasions in the days following the murder. It
was not until a fourth formal statement was taken from her on
8th November that Mrs Bryce named Ronnie Coulter
and David Montgomery as being involved in the attack.
5.21 House-to-house enquiries were carried out in Garrion Street
and three surrounding streets in close proximity to the scene
of the murder. Additionally, enquiries were carried out at the
Community Centre, two public houses, shops and takeaways all
sited in Main Street, Overtown. The house-to-house enquiries
revealed only one eye-witness to the attack other than Mrs Bryce.
This witness was unable to identify any of the attackers and
failed to make any identification at subsequent Identification
Parades which were conducted.
5.22 Statements were obtained from known associates of the
suspect, Andrew Coulter. The statements of these individuals
are considered in greater detail in Chapter 6.
Important information was also obtained from relatives of the
5.23 Enquiries were also conducted at the Department of Social
Security and Overtown Post Office regarding the alleged fraudulent
encashment of Surjit's girocheque. CCTV recordings from the
post office were seized as productions and clearly showed Andrew
Coulter cashing Surjit's girocheque on 4th November
1998. A number of witnesses were interviewed about this.
5.24 Other CCTV recordings by the police and the local authority
of the Gowkthrapple area were obtained. The Strathclyde Police
Technical Support Unit was involved in compiling a video tape
showing the movements of the three suspects at crucial times
during the evening of 4/5th November 1998. The routes
apparently taken by the suspects to Garrion Street were video-recorded,
timed and measured by officers of Strathclyde Police Traffic
Department. The route was also walked and timed by a police
5.25 In her report following the Review of the police enquiry,
Detective Superintendent Joyce described the importance of the
"Effective and efficient use of CCTV not only put the
accused in each other's company at the relevant time and/or
out of their dwelling-houses at the appropriate time, it also
documented the clothing worn by each, which in turn led to
effective house searching and the correct clothing being recovered."
5.26 Enquiries were also conducted to trace the movements of
the car driven by David Montgomery following Surjit's murder.
This involved investigations at a garage and a car valet business
in an effort to determine whether David Montgomery had attempted
to dispose of the car or any crucial evidence. Officers in the
enquiry team also obtained copies of the itemised telephone
bills of both Ronnie Coulter and Andrew Coulter.
5.27 Clothing taken from Surjit and the accused was submitted
to the Forensic Science Laboratory on 9th November
along with the baseball bat recovered in Andrew Coulter's house
for examination. This was with a view to establishing whether
there had been transference of any material (for example, blood)
from one source to the other which might link the suspects to
the attack on Surjit.
5.28 A witness gave the police information about the murder
weapon. He told the police that he had been asked to dispose
of a box of knives, the smallest of which was missing. It was
alleged that the missing knife had been the one used to stab
Surjit. The witness assisted police in recovering this box.
Officers thereafter purchased an identical box of knives. These
knives were shown to the pathologists who conducted the post
mortem on behalf of the Crown and they were of the opinion that
the smallest knife in the set was possibly a similar weapon
to that used in the attack on Surjit.
5.29 Following a telephone call by his solicitor to the Incident
Room, Andrew Coulter went to Wishaw Police Office at approximately
1800 hours on 5th November 1998. He was detained
by officers, interviewed for some two hours, and subsequently
arrested and charged with the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar.
5.30 The police were looking for David Montgomery. On 7th
November he was traced to an address in Newarthill and detained
by police officers. He was interviewed for more than three hours
and he too was charged with the murder.
5.31 At approximately 1400 hours on 9th November
1998 Ronnie Coulter went to Wishaw Police Office with his solicitor.
He was detained, interviewed for more than four hours and then
charged with murder.
5.32 Reports in respect of each suspect were submitted to the
Procurator Fiscal; in the case of Andrew Coulter, on 6th
November 1998, and similarly for David Montgomery and Ronnie
Coulter, on 9th November 1998. The statements of
the witnesses were also submitted to the Procurator Fiscal during
the course of the days and weeks following Surjit's murder.
5.33 In total 142 formal statements were taken by the police
from 98 civilian witnesses between 2355 hours on 4th
November 1998 and 14th November 1998. Of these statements,
seven were taken prior to 0200 hours and a further three taken
by 0600 hours on 5th November 1998. These included
a statement from the mother of the suspect Andrew Coulter. The
following table details the number of statements taken in the
course of the police enquiry. 30 police officers were involved
in taking statements from civilian witnesses.
Number of civilian witness statements
5.34 In addition, statements from 37 police officers were submitted
to the Procurator Fiscal. This figure does not reflect the total
number of officers involved in the case. Statements would not
ordinarily be submitted by officers who would not be required
evidentially for the prosecution of the case. Such officers
would often include the Senior Investigating Officer, the Family
Liaison Officers and other officers who formed the Incident
Senior Investigating Officer
5.35 Acting DCI William Anderson was initially the Senior Investigating
Officer in the case. At that time he had approximately 22 years'
police service and had been the Senior Investigating Officer
in two murder enquiries prior to the Chhokar case. He had also
been involved in a number of other murder enquiries during a
period with the Serious Crime Squad. He explained that 'P' and
'N' Divisions were merging in December 1998. The Detective Chief
Inspector who was based at Motherwell ('P' Division) was transferred
in July 1998 to another Division. It had been decided that Detective
Chief Inspector John Michael, who was the DCI for 'N' Division,
would become the DCI of the merged Divisions following the merger
in December 1998. In the meantime, Acting DCI William Anderson
was to fulfil the role of DCI at 'P' Division.
5.36 On the night of Surjit's murder, Acting DCI Anderson was
in bed and received a telephone call some time after midnight
informing him of the incident. In evidence to this Inquiry he
explained that he would be taking decisions about the enquiry
and asking questions from that moment -
"I would be making decisions in the house while I
was taking that phone-call, for example, Is somebody at the
hospital? Get me a crime scene manager, Did I ask for a pathologist?
Where are we going to run this enquiry from? etc. I would
be making decisions as I am going along. Once I am called
out I would tend to go to the office and eventually arrange
to set up the Incident Room."
5.37 According to the Management Policy Book, the role of Senior
Investigating Officer was transferred to DI Kenneth MacIver
at approximately 1345 hours on 5th November 1998.
The murder had occurred in Wishaw Sub-Division for which DI
MacIver had responsibility. The enquiry was overseen by DCI
John Michael. DCI Michael, however, in his evidence to me, stated
he was the Senior Investigating Officer and that DI Kenneth
MacIver was his Deputy. Certainly the evidence of other officers,
including the Family Liaison Officers, is to the effect that
DCI John Michael was the Senior Investigating Officer. Det Supt
Jeannette Joyce explained to me her understanding of the position
"The SIO in this case was of Detective Inspector
rank although the enquiry was overseen by Detective Chief
Inspector John Michael. Kenny MacIver was the SIO but John
Michael would be overseeing the enquiry. He would be supervising
the Detective Inspector, sitting with him and making sure
that the matter progressed satisfactorily. I understood John
Michael's role to be that of an overseer/mentor. If the murder
had been a category A murder the SIO would have been
of Detective Superintendent rank. If the murder had been a
category B murder the SIO would be a Detective Superintendent
or Detective Chief Inspector.
DCI Michael obviously took an active part in this case
but that is okay. There was not to my knowledge or my impression
ever a conflict of interests between DCI Michael and
DI MacIver. DI MacIver is the SIO as per the policy book."
5.38 Both DI Kenneth MacIver and DCI John Michael are experienced
police officers. DCI Michael joined the police in 1972 and has
extensive experience in policing both rural and urban communities.
He also has experience as both uniformed officer and detective
officer at the ranks of Constable, Sergeant, Inspector and Chief
Inspector. He first became a detective officer in 1979. Between
1983 and 1988 he served as a Detective Sergeant in 'A' Division
(Glasgow City Centre), in the Serious Crime Squad and in 'P'
Division (Bellshill). He was promoted to Inspector in 1991 and
Chief Inspector in 1995 upon which he spent three years in the
Complaints and Discipline Branch. He transferred to the Detective
Chief Inspector post in 'N' Division (now 'P' Division) in 1998.
5.39 DCI Michael told me that he has worked on over 20 murder
enquiries during the last two years. In the period 1st
January 1998 to July 2001 the former 'P' and 'N' Divisions were
involved in 31 murder enquiries. All of these murder enquiries
5.40 At approximately 0120 hours on 5th November
1998 Acting DCI Anderson made the decision to call out detective
officers from the day-shift to augment the late-shift CID resources
and to form the Enquiry Team. An entry in the Management Policy
Book made by Acting DCI Anderson reflects that decision and
details the number and rank of officers called out:
"Call-out of dayshift CID resources ('P') to form
1 DS [detective sergeant], 4 DCs [detective
constables], 1 DIO (staff) [divisional intelligence
('N') 4 DCs
('H' SCS) [Serious Crime Squad] 1 DS, 2 DCs."
5.41 Prior to his posting to Acting DCI at Motherwell, William
Anderson was an officer in the Serious Crime Squad. He explained
that part of its role was to assist Divisions in murder cases
during the early stages of the investigation.
5.42 It is noted at 0239 hours that 10 police constables from
'N' and 'P' Divisions attended at the murder scene for search
purposes. The entry at 0303 hours indicates that four police
constables based at Coatbridge Police Office were called in
to assist at Wishaw Police Office.
5.43 Acting DCI Anderson, who handed over the Senior Investigating
Officer's role at approximately 1345 hours on 5th
November 1998, was content that he had sufficient resources
during the early stages of the investigation.
"I did not feel grossly under-resourced but I did
call for Serious Crime Squad assistance and called the day-shift
In the Chhokar case I asked if the Serious Crime Squad
were still on duty. If they were on duty I would utilise them.
You try to get as many people as you can, for example, if
the late-shift had still been on I would keep them on and
I would also get the day-shift out early. I could also try
to get neighbouring Divisions to assist. I was happy that
we had enough officers at that time."
5.44 The Divisional Commander, Sandy Forrest, attended the
scene of Surjit's murder. He was the Divisional Commander for
both 'N' and 'P' Divisions. He had been at home in bed when
he received a telephone call from the Control Room at Motherwell
Police Office. He made the decision to go to the police office
and then to the scene of the attack. He told me -
"On hearing the injured party's/deceased's name,
I decided to go out to the incident. I preferred if possible
to attend such incidents because it is a lot easier to deal
with the management of the incident the next morning if you
have been there the night before ...My decision to attend
is also based on the nature of the incident ... I have to
decide if I am adding any value to the situation by going.
In this case I was aware of the name and therefore knew that
the deceased was likely to be of Sikh background. This incident
occurred in the post-Lawrence era. I also feel that if others
know I am prepared to attend such an incident then it encourages
5.45 Mr Forrest explained to me that as Divisional Commander
he had strategic and managerial responsibility for the policing
of the Division. In attending the scene of Surjit's murder he
was attending to manage the incident but not to investigate
the crime. Mr Forrest described part of his role:
"My role is to boundary manage. If my detectives
want, for example, the Serious Crime Squad to attend, they
would get that. I am a resource manager. I ensure that there
are adequate police officers to deal with the incident. CID
will tell me who they need. It is not a proactive role but
reactive to the CID coming to me with a problem. CID officers
should be busy investigating the incident rather than dealing
with resource difficulties.
All available resources were made available in the Chhokar
case - there were no resource difficulties. Other officers
would have been available if required. It would be open to
me to go to the Serious Crime Squad and get a contingent of
officers but I could also contact the Duty Officer at Force
Control and ask for, for example, 3 detective sergeants and
2 detective constables from every Division. ... Nobody came
to me with an issue nor did I find an issue of lack of resources
in the Chhokar case. To my knowledge the resources were adequate."
5.46 Acting DCI Anderson confirmed this account:
"Chief Superintendent Sandy Forrest was keen on coming
out to incidents. He wanted to know how he could help. He
would say, 'you are the detectives but tell me what you need'.
If there had been a deficiency in officer numbers I would
have had no difficulties in requesting more."
5.47 In relation to the question of resources in this murder
enquiry, Assistant Chief Constable Graeme Pearson remarked:
"In terms of looking to the allocation of resources
to avenues of enquiry, I find it difficult to find that the
resources were not allocated to lines of enquiry that were
pertinent. There is no evidence of any shortcuts having been
taken and indeed, the Investigating Officers went back and
cross-referenced many of their lines of enquiry."
5.48 The police investigation, particularly at the earliest
stages, was in a number of ways exemplary -
· Police officers were at the scene within minutes
of the reported assault.
· When they arrived, the two constables, PCs
Rattray and Maclean, saw a severely injured man, and made
it their first priority to administer first aid and if possible
save his life. They waited until the ambulance arrived before
carrying out further tasks. The fact that one of them recognised
him from a previous occasion when he had had to arrest him
for assault, made no difference to their response: they saw,
not an 'Asian' but a human being in dire need and they acted
on that alone.
· The police took immediate steps to secure the
scene of crime, and acted quickly to try to preserve potential
evidence. The street was cordoned within minutes. Scene of
Crime Officers and a police photographer were summoned, and
arrived within two hours of the murder. The police maintained
a log of persons entering and leaving the secured crime scene.
· PC Rattray - a very junior officer, but a very
alert and disciplined one - noted the events leading up to
the attack from the key witness, and had the name of the suspect
Andrew Coulter as being at the crime scene, and within a minute
of the victim being pronounced dead he had been given a possible
motive - "an argument over a giro". PC Rattray
maintained a contemporaneous record of events in his police
notebook from the moment when he arrived at the crime scene
to the time when he completed his duties. Critical information
was noted and not lost, and was passed to CID officers and
senior police officers immediately.
· The police acted quickly to locate and detain
the named suspect.
· They were speedy in obtaining statements from
witnesses. They took statements at the murder scene, and they
did not allow potential witnesses to disperse. In relation
to the key witness, Elizabeth Bryce, they were rigorous and
persistent in seeking to establish the truth from her.
· They conducted house-to-house enquiries and
extended their enquiries beyond local street residents.
· Police were deployed to search the immediate
area for a murder weapon. This was done on repeated occasions.
· The police were resourceful and proficient
in their use of police and local authority CCTV facilities,
which yielded critical information.
· They knew the victim's family and where to
go to find them.
· The Divisional Commander regarded the incident
of an assault on a member of a minority ethnic community as
serious enough to require his own presence at the scene of
5.49 These are all positive points, to the credit of the police,
and ought to be recorded as such. However, the police failed
to seek information from the victim's family, beyond formal
identification of his body. In my view this was a serious
omission. Questions about Surjit's lifestyle, on which the
family could have been expected to provide information, could
have yielded significant further lines of enquiry, which the
police scarcely considered. This is particularly significant
in relation to questions of a possible racial motive for the
5.50 This issue is of course central to my Terms of Reference.
As will be shown below, in the chapters dealing with family
liaison, the family themselves asked whether there was a racial
motive in the crime. The police handling of this aspect was
inadequate. I deal with it at length in the next chapter.
6. RACIAL MOTIVATION
This chapter examines
· whether race was a motive in the murder, and
· whether the police investigation was thorough
in relation to possible racial motive.
The conclusion drawn is that the police correctly identified
the primary motive for the murder, which was not racial; but
that they did not follow through the investigation of a racial
motive, and consequently failed to establish whether or not
there was a racial component to the crime. This failure was
particularly damaging to the Chhokar family.
The initial police response to the crime
6.1 An entry on the police command and control printout at
0054 hours on 5th November 1998, records Chief
Superintendent Forrest, the Divisional Commander, as saying
at the scene of crime `This does not appear to be a racial incident.'
The murder had taken place little more than an hour earlier,
and Mr Forrest had been on the scene for just a quarter of an
hour when he made his assessment.
6.2 In giving evidence to this Inquiry Chief Supt Forrest emphasised
to me that this was no more than an initial view, which would
have to be tested and might alter when more information came
in. He told me -
"My comment is not a conclusive view. I am not saying
that the people involved did not hold racial prejudices but
the motivation did not appear at that stage to be racial.
... My comment at 0054 hours is akin to me saying that
a death appears to be suspicious or non-suspicious. The initial
indications may point to the death being non-suspicious but
when, for example, the pathologists attend that position may
change ... The reason for making that comment is that the
incident is being monitored by a number of parties. It is
simply a question of letting them know what is in my mind
based on the information at that time. The statement is not
for public consumption but is an administrative tool for letting
people get on with their job. I am not saying conclusively
that it is not a racial incident. As far as I was aware, this
was not an incident of a black person being set upon randomly
by three white youths. By the time I make the comment,
the story was known to me, that is the story about a fallout
over a giro cheque and a threat to go to the police."
6.3 The term `racial incident' which
Chief Supt Forrest uses, had a specific operational meaning.
The Strathclyde Police Race Relations Policy, issued in July
1997, states (at paragraph 4.2) that -
A racially motivated incident is defined as `any incident
in which it appears to the reporting or investigating officer
that the complaint involves an element of racial motivation
or any incident which includes an allegation of racial motivation
made by any person'.
6.4 Acting DCI Anderson, whose role as the initial Senior Investigating
Officer is described in the preceding chapter, gave a similar
account. I asked him when it had first occurred to him that
this might be a racial incident. He said -
"Certainly by the time I was at the office [0036
hours on 5th November] and getting information
from the officers at the locus, that question would be in
my mind. I would be asking whether the deceased had been attacked
by Asian or white males. I would be asking myself whether
there was any reason this individual was singled out. It would
be fair to say I would be thinking about whether race was
an issue within the first couple of hours. In any case you
would be thinking, `what is the story here?' You know that
you are going to be asked whether it is racial therefore you
have to satisfy yourself as far as you can from the information
which is available at that stage."
6.5 Later in the morning of 5th November Chief Supt
Forrest was consulted by the Strathclyde Police Media Services
office about the terms of a press release, which contained the
words (attributed to DI Kenny MacIver)
`Although the inquiry is at its early stages, we are following
a positive line of inquiry and I can say that there does not
appear to be any racial motive involved'
I shall deal with the news release in more detail in chapter
7, but it is relevant to note here
that Chief Supt Forrest argued strongly against the use of these
words in a news release so early in the investigation - as did
DI MacIver whose name is used in attribution - but he and his
colleague were over-ruled.
6.6 I note three points about this very early phase of the
· The police immediately recognised that they
must consider whether the crime was racially motivated.
· They very quickly formed an initial view that
it was not, because there was evidence of another motive.
· Nevertheless the officers concerned were aware
that their view at this stage could only be provisional.
Information obtained during police investigation
6.7 In the course of the same day, 5th November
1998, the Senior Investigating Officer responsibility was handed
over to DCI John Michael, and it was under his command that
the investigation was then taken forward.
6.8 I have examined every statement taken by the police, of
civilian and police witnesses. There is no evidence in them
that the attack was racially motivated. Statements taken by
the police in the early afternoon of 5th November,
about a conversation which the suspects Andrew Coulter and
Ronnie Coulter had with friends on the previous
evening, before the attack, provide evidence of Andrew
Coulter showing resentment towards Surjit Singh Chhokar because
he (Andrew Coulter) was "...getting the blame for cashing
a guy called Chhokar's giro...". Further statements
were obtained from these witnesses on 10th November
which gave more detail of the discussion between Andrew Coulter
and Ronnie Coulter. In that conversation they were reported
to have discussed, in particular and disgusting detail, what
they intended to do to Surjit Singh Chhokar. One witness stated
"Andy said he was going to batter Chhokar with a
bat. He said, `I'm going ta go up and break his two kneecaps
so that he'll never walk again'. He also said, `We'll get
a spoon and take his eyes out'. Both Ronnie and Andy were
laughing about it. Andy even said to Ronnie, `Ah bet you'll
no sit back and watch me hit this guy myself, you'll jump
in'. ...I cannot remember which one said it, but one of them
said, `I'm goin' ta take him down the Clyde and chuck him
off the bridge and then drive his car up ta the priory and
burn it out'. I just thought they were joking and laughing
about it, but I did know that they were going up to Overtown
to batter him, Chhokar. I also heard Andy saying to Ronnie,
`I've to phone Chez [David Montgomery] at half eleven
when am ready and we've to go and buzz him at [...'s]
6.9 This account of the conversation was supported by
the statement of another witness also present during the discussion
between Andrew Coulter and Ronnie Coulter. This witness stated
to the police on 10th November -
"Andy was saying Chhokar was getting the polis for
a £110 giro and Andy had cashed it. Andy said he was
going to go up and give Chhokar a doing when Chhokar arrived
back from work. They said it would be about twelve. ... Andy
said at some point that when he had got a run down with Chez
[David Montgomery] from his mum's to Ronnie's that
Chez had said he was going to go with Andy and Ronnie up to
Overtown to give Chhokar a doing and that he was going to
take the motor if he wasn't drinking and that they had to
give him a phone about half eleven if they were going up to
Ronnie was saying, `We will wait until he comes back from
work and we'll drag him round the back' and then he said,
`No, in case he screams for help'. Then Ronnie said at some
point, `We will take him away in Chhokar's motor and we will
batter him' and that they were going to throw him off a bridge.
... Ronnie said that they were going to burn Chhokar's motor.
I think it was Andy that said, `I wonder how he would look
without his eyes. We could take them out with spoons and that'.
They said they weren't going to take anything with them but
then Andy said, `No, I'm going to take my bat because it's
no been used yet'. ... I thought what they were talking about
was disgusting and sick."
6.10 Another witness, Jamie Rooney, who used to meet socially
with Andrew Coulter told the police on 7th November
at 0940 hours about two conversations he had had with Andrew
Coulter. He stated -
"About 7 o'clock on Wednesday 4 November 1998 I went
down to Andy's house...When I got in he was drinking Merrydown
Cider and he told me `Chokee' had asked him to cash his giro
and he would give Andy £20. Andy had said he signed it
and cashed it. Then Andy said `Chokee' had reported his place
had been broken into and had told the Social. That was a load
of crap `cos Andy had been given the Giro by `Chokee' and
cashed it and `Chokee' was trying to get the money twice,
that's what Andy said. Andy then said Liz Bryce had told his
mum to get Andy to go up and see `Chokee' at Liz's house when
`Chokee' finished work at twelve o'clock at night. Andy said
that he was going to go up and see him.
About five to ten that same night...I went up to Andy's
house.... When I went up Andy was on the phone trying to get
a `Chinky'. He came off the phone and said to me that he was
to phone Chez (I think his second name is Montgomery) and
his uncle Ronnie. Ronnie Coulter and Chez was going to run
them up to Overtown to see Chhokar. Andy had a wee wooden
baton lying on the window sill at the living room and said
he was taking it with him. I gathered he was going to use
it and I tried to talk him out of it. I said, `Don't be so
stupid, don't take that with you'. He said he was taking it
6.11 None of these reported conversations shows any evidence
of racist attitudes expressed, or racist language used, in relation
to Surjit Singh Chhokar by any person in the hours when the
attack was being plotted. The ideas expressed were brutal and
vicious, but not racist.
6.12 Mrs Bryce told the police that she confronted Andrew Coulter
on the afternoon of 4th November 1998 regarding the
alleged theft of Surjit's girocheque. She said to Andrew Coulter
that the police would probably become involved because it was
fraud. Andrew Coulter allegedly replied, "If that's
the case, he'll be getting it" - further evidence that
his motive was revenge.
6.13 There is also evidence (taken by the police at 1050 hours
on 5th November 1998) which indicated that Surjit
Singh Chhokar knew at least one of the suspects, namely Andrew
Coulter. The post office manager told the police that he knew
them both and "knew that Andrew Coulter and Chhokar
were friends" - indeed it was for that reason that
he was not suspicious when Andrew Coulter presented Surjit's
girocheque. Less directly, the administrative assistant in the
Job Centre to whom Surjit went to report that he had not received
his cheque, said that -
"I ... told Mr Chhokar that his Giro had been cashed
by a person call Andrew Coulter. Mr Chhokar told me he did
not know a person called Andrew Coulter but something about
his manner gave me the impression that he was lying about
not knowing him."
6.14 Mrs Bryce confirmed also that Surjit Singh Chhokar and
Andrew Coulter knew each other. She had known Andrew
Coulter since he was a child and Mr Chhokar knew him through
her. She stated - "...we just see him on the street
now and then and he says `hello'".
6.15 These various pieces of evidence very clearly suggest
a motive of revenge. None of them contains any hint of a racial
Evidence of a racial motive?
6.16 There is however one witness statement among the police
papers which reports Andrew Coulter referring to Surjit Singh
Chhokar as a "black bastard". Jamie Rooney stated
to the police at 2130 hours on 5th November
"About three or four weeks ago I was in the park
next to the Community Centre, there were other people there
but I'd be lying if I said I knew who they were. Anyway, Andy
Coulter said to me, 'Did ye hear aboot it, that black bastard
Chhokar raped a bird behind Almas'. I said, no, I never heard
about it. He seemed angry, a bit upset about it but he never
said any more about it. He never mentioned it to me again."
6.17 Another witness referred to the same rumour. The police
investigated the allegation of rape and found no evidence to
support it. The Senior Investigating Officer, DCI Michael, explained
"I was informed of the content of the statement and
that comment was put to Andy Coulter during his interview
that night. The question of rape was researched by the intelligence
cell. The only incident was as far back as 1995 or 1997. There
was nothing to connect that incident with Surjit Singh
We had not ruled anything out at all at that stage. The
intelligence cell information identified that no rape had
taken place but Andrew Coulter may have given us further information
and details during his interview.
The question of rape was a rumour which was untrue. It
was researched thoroughly. Surjit Singh Chhokar had no background
of sexual assault..."
6.18 The police response to the allegation
made by the witness is significant. They concentrated their
attention on whether the allegation itself was true. That was
of course quite right - rape is a serious crime, and they could
not ignore a statement which alleged it. They had to find out
whether it had any substance. However, they did not attach any
significance to the fact that the suspect in the present case,
Andrew Coulter, was being alleged to have referred to the victim,
Surjit Singh Chhokar, in terms which could be taken as racist,
ie `black bastard', albeit some time before the time of the
murder and in another context. According to the information
available to the police at the time, the reported comment was
made several weeks before the murder, the victim and the suspect
were known to be at least acquainted and possibly friendly,
and there was no evidence at the time of or immediately before
or after the attack of there being any racial aggravation. Therefore
the police did not follow up the alleged racist remark. I shall
return to that point later in this chapter.
6.19 Would this evidence of a racist attitude have made any
difference to the prosecution? The answer seems to be: probably
not, because the witness was unreliable. In his statement to
the police on 5th November 1998 he said that the
remark had been made "about three or four weeks ago";
when he was precognosced by the Procurator Fiscal Depute preparing
the case, on 15th December 1998, he said it was "a
while ago"; and when he was reprecognosced in November
2000, at the instruction of the Advocate Depute during the trial
of Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery, his recollection was
that the remark had been made about one year before the murder,
at the time when Mr Chhokar was working at the Almas restaurant.
6.20 However, during my meeting with the Advocate Depute, Sean
Murphy, I showed him a copy of the witness's statement to the
police on 5th November 1998. Mr Murphy told me that
he had not been aware of the content of that statement. He said
that, on the timescale of three to four weeks outlined in the
statement to the police, the alleged comment by Andrew Coulter
would have had more significance. Clearly, in this matter the
prosecuting Advocate Depute had not been fully advised of relevant
material; and that in itself is a matter of concern. However,
Mr Murphy went on further to say -
"The difficulty is one of corroboration. If race
was a motivation, then there was no other indicator to that
effect. It does raise the question of secondary motivation.
It would suggest that there was a much less cordial relationship
between Andrew Coulter and Surjit Singh Chhokar than I had
thought. It would have flown in the face of other witnesses
including the post office worker. ...The racial element may
be there but it was ill at ease with other evidence."
6.21 I asked Mr Murphy if he had considered or caused to be
investigated any previous racism suffered by Surjit Singh Chhokar.
He explained -
"No, the evidence I had related to a specific time
and specific circumstances. It is difficult to lead evidence
of racial aggravation if there is a time lag between the alleged
racist comment and the attack, even if that is only three
or four weeks."
6.22 I agree with Mr Murphy on this point. Whether the alleged
comment by Andrew Coulter was made three or four weeks before
the incident or up to one year previously, I doubt whether the
evidence of that comment alone would have enabled the Crown
to libel a racial aggravation in the murder charge against Andrew
Coulter. It would not fall within the definition of s.96(2)(a)
of the Crime and Disorder Act 19985.
Considering that the information about the theft of the girocheque
and what followed afterwards suggests a clear motivation, it
would be difficult to argue that the offence was racially motivated
such as to allow it to come into the terms of s.96(2)(b). The
witness, Jamie Rooney, was not saying that Mr Chhokar was killed
by Andrew Coulter because he was black. Nor is there any evidence
at all in the police statements or the Crown papers linking
Ronnie Coulter or David Montgomery to a racially motivated attack.
A second racist remark
6.23 The phrase "black bastard" appears in one other
place in the police statements. On this occasion it is attributed
to Andrew Coulter's mother, Margaret Chisholm. The witness stated
to the police at 2040 hours on 5th November 1998
that, on the afternoon of 4th November Mrs Chisholm,
following a telephone conversation with her son Andrew Coulter,
regarding Mrs Bryce:
"... put the telephone down and rushed out the door
and said, `I'm away roun' to get her and that black bastard'."
6.24 This however is evidence about the mother, not about the
son who was accused of the crime. Mr Murphy summed up the implications
of this statement when he told me -
"There is a difficulty regarding the police statement
in that Margaret Chisholm is one step removed from the accused.
The remark is coming from the mother and you cannot transfer
a racist remark from the mother to the son. It might have
made a difference to the way that Margaret Chisholm
was cross-examined but you would have to consider whether
that type of language was in general use. It might be seen
as a clear racial motive but it could also be used to dilute
that effect because that might be the way people in that family
talked generally. In any event, it is not relevant because
it is one step removed from the accused."
Police enquiry into potential racial motive
6.25 I have shown at the beginning of this chapter that the
police were conscious, from the very beginning of their investigation,
that the attack on Surjit could be a `racial incident'; but
that they were presented immediately with evidence of a non-racial
motive. Within minutes of the attack, Elizabeth Bryce had named
Andrew Coulter to the police; and within a minute of Surjit
being pronounced dead at Law Hospital she had given the police
a possible motive - "an argument over a giro".
The witness statements which they took the next day, parts of
which are quoted above, confirm the non-racial motive; they
give only the thinnest hint of a racist attitude, and none at
all that can be linked directly to the crime. Acting DCI Anderson
emphasised to me that this investigation was more straightforward
than many -
"The Chhokar enquiry did have a focus based on the
information we received from our officers. There are occasions
when there is no information available and the police know
6.26 The question which I have to consider in this Inquiry
however is whether the police were thorough in their pursuit
of the racial line of enquiry, or whether, on the contrary,
having found a non-racial motive they neglected to investigate
the racial aspect as thoroughly as they should have done.
The `black bastard' comment
6.27 DCI John Michael, who took over as the Senior Investigating
Officer for this case in the afternoon of 5th November,
had this general view of the case -
"The Chhokar enquiry was not a complicated enquiry.
No enquiry is straightforward but this enquiry was not complex
given that a suspect had been named. A clear distinct line
of enquiry emerged from the early stages in this case. This
enquiry was not complex and not protracted."
6.28 I have referred above (paragraph 6.18)
to DCI Michael's response to the witness statement that "Andy
Coulter said to me, `Did ye hear aboot it, that black bastard
Chhokar raped a bird behind Almas'" and I have noted
that his attention focused on the allegation of rape, but not
on the expression `black bastard'. This is consistent with his
further comment -
"I would not say that no significant weight was placed
on the comments. The comments were identified and the interviewing
officer was instructed to put it to Andrew Coulter during
interview. The questions were also thoroughly researched.
It is significant that it was an inappropriate comment. We
had not ruled anything out at all at that stage. The intelligence
cell information identified that no rape had taken place but
Andrew Coulter may have given us further information
and details during his interview. There were a number of possible
motives and we investigate all lines of enquiry. The race
dimension was taken into account to see whether there was
a race motive."
6.29 I note particularly the last two sentences of this extract,
and I challenge them. It is noteworthy that the police Management
Policy Book on this case, which was the responsibility of the
Senior Investigating Officer, contains no reference to investigation
of the case as a racial incident nor any reference to investigation
of the `black bastard' comment. With regard to the specific
matter of the `black bastard' expression, PC Quigley, who took
the statement from the witness Jamie Rooney, told me -
"In his statement, Jamie Rooney said Andrew Coulter
had remarked `..that black bastard Chhokar raped a bird behind
Almas...'. I was not asked to look into the `black bastard'
comment nor the rape question. The statement would have gone
to the Statement Reader and the SIO and it would be up to
them to decide on further actions.
Jamie Rooney was re-interviewed. I think this was in connection
with a party he had been at with Coulter. We were not instructed
to ask the witness about the `black bastard' comment during
6.30 PC Forsyth, who was with PC Quigley on both occasions,
gave me a similar account.
6.31 I think it is likely that DCI Michael omitted to follow
up the use of the expression `black bastard' because he did
not consider that either the witness or Andrew Coulter who was
alleged to have used it would have intended any racist connotation.
His views on the use of the term 'Chinky' was also instructive.
As Mr Michael put it to me -
"The people we deal with speak like that and in
those terms all the time. For example, the witness Rooney
in his statement also calls people Chinky etc. That is just
the type of individual he is, for the type of individual he
is he would use a phrase like that as a figure of speech."
6.32 That was a judgment which DCI Michael made. Whether or
not it was correct, I have to say that some of his senior colleagues
who gave evidence to me did not think that the matter should
have been left there. Chief Superintendent George Burton, who
was Head of the Community Involvement Branch of Strathclyde
Police at the time, commented to me -
"You would probably want to speak to the associates
of the Coulter family to establish whether the comment `black
bastard' is general language used by the family. People in
the West of Scotland refer to Pakistanis as "Pakis"
day and daily. You would have to investigate whether there
was an element of racism in the comment."
6.33 Similarly, Assistant Chief Constable Graeme Pearson said
to me that, with hindsight, the police ought to have gone back
to the witness who reported Andrew Coulter's alleged comment.
An attempt should have been made to establish whether the `black
bastard' comment was in fact made by Andrew Coulter, who was
present when the comment was made and the circumstances in which
it was made. Mr Pearson remarked -
"This may have given an alternative reason for the
murder, that is, the perceived injustice on Andrew Coulter's
part that a black person had raped a woman."
6.34 ACC Pearson also said that a comment of the nature reported
to have been made by Andrew Coulter would not now be approached
in the way described by DCI Michael. Mr Pearson told me -
"I think in the current sensitivities it would not
be approached in that way - it would be nailed down and
taken to a conclusion. The language of the people the police
are generally dealing with can be gratuitous. The ability
to describe an individual is often limited and the description
of a person as a `black bastard' is not always related to
the colour of their skin. Police officers are, for example,
called black bastards. You have to analyse the context in
which these statements are made and you must accept that you
have to rely on the judgment of the officers involved in discriminating
between the contexts. For example, was he referred to as a
black bastard because he had raped a woman or was he referred
to as a black bastard because he is Asian. You have to look
for information to suggest that race had something to do with
the murder. You would speak to the key witnesses but in this
case there was no information that the accused had a problem
with Surjit Singh Chhokar because he was Asian."
6.35 Witness statements are by no means the only source of
information used by the police in investigating a crime. The
then Divisional Commander, Chief Supt Forrest, explained that
due to the nature of the incident, ie a serious crime, a `global
message' would have been automatically forwarded to various
departments within the police, including Special Branch and
the Serious Crime Squad, on the morning of 5th November
1998. A global message outlines the information known at that
stage, gives descriptions of the suspects and requests that
any information which could assist the enquiry be forwarded
to the Incident Room. Mr Forrest explained that if Surjit Singh
Chhokar had, for example, been subject to activity by the British
National Party or the British National Front, Special Branch
would have identified that and fed the information back to the
murder enquiry team.
6.36 Both DCI Michael and ACC Pearson confirmed that intelligence
checks were carried out with the Scottish Criminal Records Office
and the Force's own intelligence system to get a picture of
the individuals involved and whether they were known to the
6.37 Local enquiries were made also. The police took statements
from several people who knew Surjit Singh Chhokar and it is
obvious from the content of these statements that the individuals
were asked if they were aware of any difficulties or problems
he had experienced. Both the owner and the chef of the New Poonam
restaurant where Surjit worked were visited by the police. Surjit
had been working there for only two weeks before his death and
both men were unable to say whether he had any problems. Police
officers also spoke with a neighbour of Elizabeth Bryce in Garrion
Street as well as two relatives of that neighbour. These three
women all knew Surjit but explained to the police that they
did not know him closely enough to know whether he had any personal
6.38 I note here that the police were aware, from statements
made to them by Elizabeth Bryce, that his flat at Caplaw Tower
had been broken into in July or August of that year, and that
he did not feel comfortable living in the flat following the
break-in. That does not seem to have been followed up: there
is no information in the police record about the residents of
Caplaw Tower, for example whether Surjit was the only non-white
person living there (as was later alleged by the Chhokar Family
Justice Campaign6) or
whether there was any sign of racial tension in the area. In
general I found no indication that the police officers who carried
out these enquiries were directed to look particularly for any
evidence that Surjit had met problems arising from his ethnic
origin. It would appear that no evidence specifically relating
to race was turned up by these various enquiries, and that the
Senior Investigating Officer therefore assumed that there was
none to be found.
6.39 There was a degree of complacency there. Maggie Chetty,
Senior Officer with the West of Scotland Community Relations
Council told me -
"Even if you have a dominant motive which is not
racist, good professional policing would look hard at the
possibility of a racial motive. All relevant witnesses would
have to be brought on board, including the family. You would
be asking questions about the background to the incident,
whether they had had any difficulties, any harassment, bullying,
intimidation of any sort etc in the past. There is a reluctance
to speak about these issues. These questions do, however,
have to be asked, albeit sensitively. You would not ask the
family immediately, you would give them a few days."
The family view
6.40 A more obvious and fundamental failure however was that
the police omitted to discuss either with Mrs Bryce or
members of Surjit's family whether he had been subject to racist
abuse or threats from any part of the community and in particular
from any of the suspects. Even though there was no immediate
evidence, on the night of the crime, of a racial motive, the
police should have been alerted by the fact that the Family
Liaison Officers, on their first visit to the family, in the
morning of 5th November, were spontaneously asked
by the family whether there was a racial motive.
6.41 The Family Liaison Officers, DS Ian Duffy and PC Lynn
Laverick, visited the home of Surjit's parents, probably between
0800 and 0900 hours on 5th November. Family members
present included Surjit's father and mother, his widow, Sanehdeep,
and his sister, Mrs Manjit Sengha. DS Duffy and PC Laverick
have given me their accounts of what was said -
"Manjit said something like, `is it because he was
a black man?' I said `no'. I explained that the enquiry was
ongoing but I said that that was not the reason. I was able
to say that from the information which had been gathered.
I did not dismiss it out of hand. I said something like, `it
would not appear to be anything like that'."
"The deceased's sister asked us, `Was it because
he was black?' Ian Duffy told her that the enquiries at that
time did not indicate that."
6.42 This was reported back to the Senior Investigating Officer,
but no further action was taken on it. DS Duffy told me -
"After I left the family I went back to the police
office and reported back to the SIO. I would go to him directly.
I told him the information regarding the cremation question,
that the family were happy speaking English and did not need
an interpreter, that the family were all in the house including
the wife Sandy. I think we also told him about Manjit's question.
Yes, I did tell him about that. The SIO knew that race was
not a motive and therefore it was not an issue."
6.43 The last sentence in that extract is evidence that the
Senior Investigating Officer did not at that stage have an `open
mind' on the issue - he had ample evidence of a non-racial motive
and had drawn the conclusion that race was not an issue. Consequently
he failed to see that the very fact that a family member had
raised the question might be significant to his enquiry.
6.44 Chief Supt Burton described to me the approach he would
have expected -
"The officer should make preliminary enquiries,
for example, `what makes you raise that question? Are you
aware of something in the background that makes you ask that?
Did the deceased suffer from racial abuse at the restaurant
or where he lived?' Having done that the officers would then
go back to the SIO and ask that someone be actioned with looking
into this in order to satisfy the family."
6.45 I was also given a Procurator Fiscal's perspective on
the matter, by Mrs Angiolini. She told me that she would have
expected the details of Mrs Sengha's question to have been reported
from the police to the Procurator Fiscal Depute preparing the
"If I had been made aware of the question raised
by the deceased's relative, `was it because he was black?'
I would have wanted the police to find out what was behind
that concern and to report to me."
6.46 In point of fact the visit on 5th November
was not an appropriate moment for the Family Liaison Officers
to start asking questions - as I shall describe in a later chapter,
the family was distraught and in shock at the time, and the
Family Liaison Officers wisely kept their visit as short as
possible. But they had heard and mentally noted the question,
and reported it back. It ought to have been followed up, in
the way that Mr Burton describes above.
6.47 There appears to have been a lack of communication within
the police enquiry team. The officers who later that day took
the statements which contained the `black bastard' comment would
not have known that the victim's sister had that morning asked
`Was it because he was black?'; and DS Duffy did not know that
the phrase `black bastard' appeared in witness statements until
I showed them to him during his sessions with this Inquiry.
He told me that he would not necessarily have mentioned Mrs
Sengha's question in a team briefing, although he did tell DCI
John Michael. DS Duffy's response to the witness statements
which I showed him was -
"That is the first I have heard of this comment,
`black bastard'. It would have rung bells with me. If I had
known that before I went up to the house, my answer to Manjit
may have been different. It would make me ask, `Is there a
connection? Is Manjit correct?' I would have actioned these
statements. I would have asked these statements to be clarified."
6.48 The police were right to identify that the primary motive
(and possibly the sole motive) for the crime was not racial.
Having found a primary motive however, they simply ignored the
question, which was explicitly put to them by the family, of
whether there could also have been a racial motive. They let
it rest on the provisional reply which DS Duffy gave them on
the spot on the morning after the murder. They failed to ask
family members whether they themselves had any light to shed
on the question; and thus were never in a position to go back
to the family and give them a conclusive answer to it.
6.49 The Procurator Fiscal was never informed that this question
had been raised. The fact should have been recorded by the police
and should have been passed to the Procurator Fiscal.
6.50 The only statements which the police took from Surjit's
father, Darshan Singh Chhokar, and from his widow, Sanehdeep
Chhokar, were in connection with the identification of the body.
If they had questioned Sanehdeep about her husband's background
they might have learned from her what she has told me, through
Mrs Kate Duffy of PETAL. Mrs Duffy has reported -
"She [Sanehdeep Chhokar] did, however, speak
about the crime not being racist. Sandy explained that most
of Surjit's friends were white. She said that the killing
was not racist. Sandy said that the first time I met her.
She was talking about her husband and explained that he was
more westernised. She said that she knew people had been talking
about it being racist, but she said that it wasn't. She said
it was not a racist murder. Surjit had white friends, a white
Sandy did say that it wasn't a race case. She spoke about
the Lawrence case and said that that was racist. She said
that she did not believe the murder of Surjit was racist.
She could not understand why he [Aamer Anwar] was
involved and couldn't understand why they were saying it was
a racist murder. Sandy said that Surjit had a lot of white
friends. In Sandy's opinion, it was not a racist murder."
6.51 Mr Chhokar was not interviewed by the police, and the
relevant questions which they might have asked were not put
until he was precognosced during the trial of Andrew Coulter
and David Montgomery, two years later. It is not known what
perspective he would have had at the time of the police enquiry:
it emerged only later during the course of this Inquiry that
he had probably not seen his son for many months before the
murder, and therefore he may not have had very much light to
shed on Surjit's lifestyle at the time.
6.52 Mr Darshan Singh Chhokar's later views were widely reported
in the press, after the trial of Ronnie Coulter in March 1999
and more recently. One thing which is very clear is that his
complaint throughout, apart from the basic complaint that his
son has been murdered and nobody has been convicted for it,
is that he has at no time been given an opportunity to give
his own perspective on the event. This came to a head during
the second trial, where there was a question as to whether he
would give evidence. There was some doubt and dispute as to
what evidence he wanted or expected to be able to give - I shall
deal with that in detail in a later chapter - but I note here
simply that if the police had taken the trouble to interview
him, and then to keep him informed of the progress of their
enquiries with respect to the racial question, much of his grievance
(though not his grief) might have been removed and his suspicion
that the murder was racist defused.
Postscript: the Macpherson definition of `racial incident'
6.53 This chapter is critical of the Senior Investigating Officer
on the grounds that, even within the canons of good investigative
practice at the time, he failed to make enquiries of the family
which might have settled conclusively whether there was a racial
aspect to this crime. It is however important to bear in mind
that these events took place before the publication of the Macpherson
Report into the Stephen Lawrence murder7.
6.54 That Report put forward a revised definition of `racist
`a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to
be racist by the victim or any other person'.
6.55 This significantly widens the scope of the definition
in use in late 1998 (quoted at paragraph 6.3
above) and shifts the balance away from the investigating officer
to any person who perceives the incident as racist.
The revised definition has been accepted and adopted, by ACPOS
and others. It is an improvement; but even so it has caused
some confusion and misunderstanding. A `perception' is only
a perception: it is not the same thing as an `allegation', and
it is certainly not the same thing as `evidence'. If perception
is confused with allegation or evidence the definition loses
much of its force.
6.56 However, this problem has been addressed, in guidelines
to Chief Constables, issued by the Lord Advocate in May this
year. I shall quote them in full -
Recommendation 12 of the Lawrence Inquiry Report by Sir William
Macpherson states that,
'A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to
be racist by the victim or any other person.'
The Scottish Executive has accepted this definition for the
purposes of the reporting to, and recording of, racist crime
by the police. The definition does not alter the onus or the
standard of proof in criminal proceedings and it remains the
case that the prosecutor requires to be satisfied that there
is sufficient evidence to proceed before criminal proceedings
in respect of allegedly racist crime may be taken against
It is of crucial importance however that the prosecutor is
advised whether the victim or any other person has perceived
an incident to be racist.
The Lord Advocate therefore directs that, in the investigation
of crime, police officers must ascertain the perception of
the victim and witnesses as to the motive for the crime*.
This must be fully investigated and clearly recorded. If racism
is perceived to be a factor by the victim or witnesses this
should be investigated and evidence recorded. Police officers
should bear in mind that victims of racism may be reluctant
to express their fears or beliefs, including their belief
that an incident has been motivated by racism, and that victims
reporting racism may often be doing so against a background
of previously unreported racism. It will be necessary for
officers in such cases to make every effort to ascertain the
true perception of the victim as to the motive for the crime.
The Procurator Fiscal should always be advised in police
reports of the perception of the victim and witnesses as to
motive. The Procurator Fiscal should always be advised of
the existence, and provided with a copy, of a racist incident
* Leading questions should not be used. Examples of appropriate
questions include: 'Why did this happen?" or 'What was
the motive behind the incident?
6.57 It remains only to say that I fully endorse this guidance.
Endnote: `motive' in the criminal law; and Racial Aggravation
1. The question of motivation is an important issue for the
families and friends of murder victims. Knowing why the perpetrator
acted in the way he did can be an important step in trying to
come to terms or deal with the death. The criminal law however
is generally not concerned with motive. In a criminal trial
there are two essential elements in proof of guilt: firstly,
that the crime has been committed and, secondly, that the accused
person committed the crime. The prosecution does not generally
require to prove the motive. In the case of Alexander Milne,
Lord Justice Clerk Inglis observed, "The motive may remain
a mystery, while the murder is an accomplished fact."8
2. In some cases however the motive behind a crime may be relevant
as evidence. This may occur where the motive goes towards the
facts of a crime, ie where it forms part and parcel of the evidence
of the crime. Lord McCluskey, giving evidence to this Inquiry,
put it thus -
"If in the course of an attack there are shouts of,
`get those Paki bastards', then that is relevant to what happened."
3. In other cases, there may be no suggestion of the motive
during the commission of the crime itself. In many circumstances,
however, evidence from individuals other than the perpetrator
may offer indicators as to the motive behind the crime.
4. Motive is also important in the investigation of
crime, no more so than in circumstances where there are no known
or obvious suspects. In detecting unresolved crime, establishing
the reason the crime was committed will often lead detectives
to the identity of the offender or offenders. What is more,
motives may be complex - individuals may be acting on more than
one motive; and this has to be taken into account in the investigation
of a crime.
5. Although the criminal law is generally not concerned with
motive, recent legislation has introduced racial motivation
as a consideration in the criminal law. Section 96 of the Crime
and Disorder Act 1998 (which came into force on 30th
September 1998) provides that, where racial aggravation is libelled
in a charge and proved in respect of any offence, the
court shall, on conviction, take the aggravation into account
in determining the appropriate sentence. "Racial aggravation"
is defined in subsection (2):
"(2) An offence is racially aggravated for the purposes
of this section if -
(a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately
before or after doing so, the offender evinces towards the
victim (if any) of the offence malice and ill-will based
on the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a
racial group; or
(b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by malice
and ill-will towards members of a racial group based on
their membership of that group,
and evidence from a single source shall be sufficient evidence
to establish, for the purposes of this subsection, that an
offence is racially aggravated."
6. Although subsection (2)(b) provides that an offence is racially
aggravated if it is racially motivated, there are as yet no
statistics to show how often aggravations are libelled under
this subsection. It is possible that the difficulties of proving
motive may deter prosecutors from relying on subsection (2)(b);
but until statistics become available there is no means of knowing
whether this is happening.
7. The 1998 Act requires the sentencing judge to give due weight
to the proved aggravation when imposing sentence; but it does
not lay down any specific increase in sentence which may be
imposed, nor does it provide for the maximum sentence for the
crime to be increased to take account of the aggravation.
7. THE RELEASE OF INFORMATION
BY THE POLICE
This chapter examines critically two actions taken by the police
on the morning after the murder, 5th November 1998,
· A telephone call from Chief Superintendent
George Burton to Councillor Bob Chadha, at about 0800 hours,
· A press release issued at 1050 hours.
Both concerned the question of whether the murder was racially
motivated, and both involved giving police information about
the murder to a third party. In both cases the action was taken
without reference to the Family Liaison Officers or the Chhokar
Chief Superintendent Burton and Councillor Chadha
7.1 At the beginning of the previous chapter I have recorded
that the Divisional Commander stated, in the small hours of
5th November, that 'This does not appear to be a
racial incident'; and that he intended this as no more than
a provisional view, not a conclusive one.
7.2 Chief Supt George Burton, the Head of Strathclyde Police
Community Involvement Branch, based in Police Headquarters in
Glasgow, became aware of the murder incident on the morning
of 5th November 1998 when he saw it marked on a print-out
from Force Control. Since his professional remit included race
relations he needed to know whether the incident was racially
motivated. He therefore spoke to Chief Inspector Alistair Ingram
at Wishaw Police Office, who informed him that (as Mr Burton
told me in evidence) -
"the information showed that it was not thought to
be a racist motive but had rather stemmed from the theft of
a girocheque. Chhokar had threatened to go to the police regarding
this theft and it seemed that there was an element of retribution."
7.3 Chief Supt Burton anticipated that media interest would
focus on the fact that an Asian man had been attacked and killed
by white men. He therefore wanted to make sure that, if the
media went to the minority community for comment, the comment
should be informed about the police perspective on the incident.
To that end, Chief Supt Burton chose to telephone Councillor
Balwant (Bob) Singh Chadha of North Lanarkshire Council. He
knew Mr Chadha through their respective involvement with the
West of Scotland Community Relations Council. He made the call
at about 0800 hours or a little after. He told me -
"I called him because, firstly, he was a local Councillor
for Motherwell District and, secondly, he was the person most
likely to be asked by the media regarding a possible racial
7.4 Mr Chadha's council ward is in fact Condorrat North and
Westfield, some way distant from Wishaw, but since he was the
only non-white member of the Council, it was reasonable for
Mr Burton to identify him as a `community champion'.
7.5 Mr Burton gave me this account, from memory, of the conversation
"I think my words were that `initial indications
in this case are that it appears not to involve a racial element'.
What we seem to have is thefts of property from the deceased
and an element of retribution. Use of the words `initial indications
are' is a formula that I have used in the past because at
that early stage we are not ruling anything out.
I did not take any notes of this telephone conversation
but it would have taken place soon after speaking to Alistair
I don't know if I indicated to him directly whether further
investigations regarding a racial motive would be carried
out. If a race motive had emerged, I would expect to be told.
I would then brief the ACC and would have re-contacted Bob
Chadha. I would brief the ACC because he would be the most
likely person to front any press conference.
I did not contact Bob Chadha again in this case as nothing
further was brought to my attention. I think I would have
been told if it had emerged that the incident was of a racial
nature. If there had been any change to the initial information
from Ingram I would have expected to know. I don't think I
would have been told if there was positive evidence ruling
out a race motive."
7.6 Councillor Chadha however, also speaking from memory, gave
me a rather different account -
"I had already heard on the radio or the television
that there had been a murder. Mr Burton phoned and introduced
himself. He said that he had phoned me because I was the local
councillor. He told me that there had been a murder of an
Asian and that it was not racist. That is all he said. He
said the information he was relying on was that it was not
a racist murder. I thought it was probably too early to say
that but I can't remember if I told him that or formed that
opinion later. I think I was listening more during this telephone
call rather than commenting.
The reason the conversation has stuck in my mind is because
he made the comment that the murder was not racist and I thought
`Who is he to make that decision?' I was wondering why he
had phoned me but I don't know if I asked him that. I think
he did mention the media, that he had phoned in case the media
questioned me because I was the only black councillor in the
area. I think he probably thought he was being helpful. I
thought making a decision like that was too much and it was
too quick to make such a judgment. Where two races are
involved in an incident you do not come to that conclusion.
The motive of the crime should not be judged so soon. I think
George Burton had told me that there were three white
people involved. I'd probably said something like, `Thanks
for telling me, George.'
I asked myself why they had contacted me. I suppose I
am more vocal in the CRC [Community Relations Council]
and I was also a substitute member of the Police Board.
I think, therefore, the police view was that I needed to be
more informed. That is welcomed by me but I do not think Mr Burton
could come to that view so early. He did say `It is not a
racist murder' but he could have qualified that by stating
that that view was according to the information he had. I
could not go into that information because that is a matter
of the police investigation. I think he did mention a giro
cheque and that the local police were pursuing lines of enquiry.
I did not form an opinion at an early stage. My conclusion
is that it was a racist murder and that conclusion has been
reached out of my own experience. The early call by Mr Burton
has strengthened my view. Where two different nationality groups
of people are involved you should reserve opinion on whether
it is a racist murder until all information is double-checked."
7.7 These accounts conflict on a substantial point, viz. whether
Mr Burton qualified his statement with `initial indications
are' or whether he said without qualification that it was
not a racist murder. I am inclined to believe Mr Burton: as
an experienced policeman he is trained to observe and remember
detail, and as a specialist in community relations he would
be alert to the distinction between an initial view and a concluded
view of whether a crime was racially motivated. His qualification
to the statement would also correspond very closely to that
made by Chief Supt Forrest a few hours earlier, which I have
7.8 However, if Mr Burton did qualify his statement, as I believe
he did, it did not register with Mr Chadha, who - according
to his evidence to me - drew the opposite conclusion. In any
event, it seems likely that Mr Chadha would eventually have
come to the conclusion that the police had ruled out a racial
motive, because he heard nothing more from them. As Mr Burton's
evidence testifies, he himself heard nothing further within
the Force about a racial motive, and had no further involvement
with the case.
A letter from Mr Chadha
7.9 In the event the news media did not immediately contact
Mr Chadha and his view of the case remained private for the
time being, but after the trial of Ronnie Coulter in March 1999
he was contacted by Aamer Anwar with a view to getting support
in North Lanarkshire Council for the Chhokar Family Justice
Campaign. On 23rd March Mr Anwar was quoted in The
Scotsman as saying
`within 12 hours of Mr Chhokar's death, detectives
had told the press and a local Asian councillor that there
was no racial motivation.'
7.10 Mr Chadha told me that he felt under pressure within the
Council not to raise the issue: someone had said to him "Don't
play the race card here - there is no racism in Wishaw."
He went on -
"I do not think I spoke to anybody after the call
from George Burton. The press was picking up the story and
eventually it was raised at the Labour Group meeting. I think
it was the Leader who made a statement about it. I was silent
on the matter from November 1998 until April 1999 because
the case was still being investigated. These were the instructions
by the Leader not to raise the issue, although I spoke about
it in one meeting querying what stand the Council should take.
I did want a debate after the first trial to look at racism
generally in North Lanarkshire. ...The Leader of the Council
said the matter was still sub judice. Strangely enough, on
the same day Aamer Anwar phoned me. He asked me to put something
in writing to him as the co-ordinator of the campaign and
he asked me to support the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign.
He asked me to put what I knew of the case in writing. I think
that Aamer Anwar probably knew that North Lanarkshire Council
was debating the Chhokar case.
He sent me a petition for the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign
and wanted me to circulate the petition. I spoke to the Leader
of the Council and he told me that I could not circulate it
because the case was still sub judice. Aamer Anwar had wanted
me to circulate the petition among councillors. I was sent
this petition by Mr Anwar prior to the meeting of the
7.11 Having been prevented from circulating the petition in
the Council, Mr Chadha wrote a letter to the Campaign himself,
in the following terms -
North Lanarkshire Council
Date: 15 April, 1999
Chokar Family's Campaign for Justice
Dear Mr Anwar
Letter of Support
Following the launch of your Chokar Family's Campaign Committee,
I raised Mr Chokar's case in the Council.
A full debate ensued and the Council Leader's motion was
carried by a majority vote. The exact wording of the motion
is not in my possession, however, it read something like this,
"that Chokar's case is still sub-judice, therefore no
conclusion should be formed as to whether there was an element
of racism in handling the case by the criminal justice system."
However, I take a different view and I believe that there
was sufficient evidence to suggest that racism was a factor
in this case. I also take the view that the Police came to
the conclusion very rapidly to suggest that it was not a racist
murder as one of the Senior Officer from the Community Involvement
Section telephoned me early in the morning following the date
of the murder suggesting that it was not a murder of a racial
I would have no hesitation in supporting your campaign for
justice and to establish whether there was an element of racism
in this sad tragedy.
Councillor Balwant Singh Chadha J.P.
7.12 I asked Mr Chadha whether, as a well known and respected
anti-racist campaigner, he had felt that he had no choice but
to support the campaign. He said -
"There was a bit of pressure. Aamer Anwar wanted
a response quickly. I dictated the letter quickly because
he wanted it as soon as possible. On reflection, perhaps I
should have sat down and thought of the wording of the letter
more carefully. I will criticise the wording of my letter
but I have no hesitation in supporting the campaign. There
were pressures in relation to the call from Aamer Anwar. He
asked for it as quickly as possible and I said that I would
dictate it right away."
7.13 I also asked him what he had had in mind when he used
the phrase `sufficient evidence'. He told me -
"I take the view that it is sufficient but I am not
talking about a legal sufficiency. I do accept that the wording
of the letter could give the wrong impression... The word
`sufficient' is not a legal term in the sense of my letter
... I had no practical evidence about race being a factor.
I had no solid evidence... I do not know if there was racism
in the case and I did not sit in court through the trial."
7.14 Councillor Chadha was very helpful in his evidence generally
to this Inquiry, and I am grateful to him for that. Nevertheless
I have to say that I find this particular account confused and
unconvincing. Mr Chadha was a Justice of the Peace of over 25
years standing. He had carried out his judicial duties every
fortnight since 1972. He was also a social worker whose duties
involved attending court in a professional capacity. With all
that experience of courts and legal process behind him, I cannot
believe that he could be ignorant of the connotation of the
phrase `sufficient evidence' or of the distinction between evidence
and suspicion. If he had evidence, he should have taken it to
the police. He described himself as being vocal in the West
of Scotland Community Relations Council and was a substitute
member of the Police Board. He thus had ample opportunity to
raise the issue with the police through his official contacts;
but he did not. In fact, as he admitted to me, he had no evidence
- his `evidence' was nothing more than an inference drawn by
himself from a telephone call from the police - and yet he issued
a letter which claimed that there was `sufficient evidence'.
It was a reckless use of words.
7.15 To his credit however, he admitted to me that his letter
had been drafted in haste. The reference to a `full debate'
was inaccurate: the Council Leader had said that the matter
was sub judice and therefore there should be no debate, and
Mr Chadha's own contribution had been in the Labour Group meeting,
not in the full Council. Mr Chadha also admitted that the use
of the phrase `sufficient evidence' was misleading. He told
"I did not realise how important this letter would
become and how Aamer Anwar would use it. I thought it was
just going to be a letter of support but now I know the value
of this letter. For Aamer Anwar, and his history of taking
the police to task, this letter gives him support... I would
not say that the letter is totally misleading but I accept
that the phrase `sufficient evidence' is misleading. "
7.16 I also sympathise with Mr Chadha's frustration in his
attempts to get the issue of racism on to North Lanarkshire
Council's political agenda. To say `Don't play the race card
here - there is no racism in Wishaw' is complacent
at best, and at worst dishonest.
7.17 The police felt that Mr Chadha's action was a breach of
confidence: Chief Supt Burton described it to me as "morally
wrong". He told me that Mr Chadha could have contacted
him with a view to giving information he possessed because Strathclyde
Police was alive to race issues at the time and depended upon
information from the public. ACC Pearson also told me -
"in relation to the briefing of Bob Chadha, it appears
that this effort may have backfired on the police even if
we were trying to do our best. The attempt on the part of
the police to accurately brief a community champion has since
been the subject of misrepresentation."
7.18 Mr Pearson went on to say that the decision to communicate
with Mr Chadha was correct but that subsequent events have created
greater uncertainty and reluctance on the part of Strathclyde
Police to give information to the public through media releases.
7.19 However, Mr Chadha actually had no information to pass
on; and the police must recognise that in contacting a figure
who is active in politics, as Mr Chadha was, they will run the
risk that information may sometimes be used in ways they do
not anticipate. There is a lesson here for the police, that
when they are giving information to community leaders, not only
should it be given precision and clarity, but there should also
be an explicit understanding reached as to what is given in
confidence and what may be used in public.
7.20 Overall however I consider that the terms of Mr Chadha's
letter could only serve to damage relations and heighten tensions
between the police and minority ethnic communities. It was subsequently
used by the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign in the media: in
The Scotsman of 30th November 2000 it was quoted
`Last night Mr Anwar insisted that the crime was racially
motivated and accused the Crown and the police of trying to
play down the race issue.
He said: "We believe that there was sufficient evidence
to suggest that racism was a factor in this case. But when
it comes to black deaths the most obvious connections elude
the police and prosecutors.
The Crown and the police simply chose to ignore the possibility
that this could have been a racist killing.'
Implications for Police Family Liaison
7.21 I have noted above that Chief Supt Burton's telephone
call to Councillor Chadha was made at or shortly after 0800
hours on 5th November 1998. At that point the Chhokar
family knew only that Surjit had been killed: they knew nothing
else about suspects or motive. They were visited by the police
Family Liaison Officers later that day; and on that visit, as
I have recorded in the previous chapter, Surjit's sister asked
the question "Was it because he was black?",
and DS Duffy told her, in words which have not been exactly
recorded, that the crime did not appear to be racially motivated.
7.22 Neither the Family Liaison Officers nor the Senior Investigating
Officer, DCI John Michael, knew that Community Involvement Branch
was taking an interest nor that Chief Supt Burton had anything
to do with the case. Thus they could not know that Councillor
Chadha had already been told about it, and had been told - in
whatever terms - that a racial motive was not suspected. Similarly
Chief Supt Burton knew nothing about the next of kin or about
the family liaison arrangements which were being set up that
7.23 It was therefore only a matter of good fortune that there
was no contact between Mr Chadha and the news media that day.
If there had been, and if the police view about racial motivation
(whether in the guarded terms which Mr Burton recalls using
or in the unqualified terms recalled by Mr Chadha) had been
reported, it would justifiably have caused the family to think
that the police were not being candid with them. That would
have created a distrust which could have hurt the family deeply
and would have done severe harm to the police attempts to build
a relationship with them.
7.24 Equally, for all the police knew, Mr Chadha and Mr Chhokar
might have spoken together. In fact, they did not know each
other, but the police did not know that. In any case, a possible
reaction by Mr Chadha, even though he did not know Mr Chhokar,
might have been to contact him. The result would have been the
same: the family would have found that the police were saying
things about the murder which they were not telling the family,
with consequent damage to the relationship.
7.25 ACC Pearson recognised this when he gave evidence to me.
He said that if the family
"had gone out looking for alternatives and had approached
Bob Chadha then he would have said to them that the police
had briefed him regarding the circumstances. The family could
then go back to the police with the comments that they were
not briefed but that a local Councillor was. That would be
a difficult thing to justify."
7.26 There was an obvious failure of co-ordination here. The
police had to have an eye to the public perception of the murder;
and they had to discharge their responsibilities to the family.
Chief Supt Burton was concerned with the one, and the Family
Liaison Officers, under the command of the Senior Investigating
Officer, were dealing with the other; but there was no communication
7.27 I have a number of recommendations to make, arising from
this whole episode. I set them out at the end of this chapter.
The news release
7.28 Later in the morning of 5th November 1998,
Strathclyde Police compounded the confusion by the issue of
a news release. I was told that the police were under media
pressure to issue a press release. I was told by DCI Michael
that the media would have asked the question `Is it a racist
murder?' because they express an interest in every murder. He
cited the example that if there had been a murder at an `Old
Firm' game, the police would be asked questions by the media
as to whether it was a sectarian murder. ACC Pearson told me
that the police are under pressure from the media to release
information. He explained that -
"If there is no release of information then a vacuum
exists and the press would try to seek information from the
local community. This leads to misinformation."
7.29 The full text of the news release is as follows -
`Detectives are following a definite line of inquiry into
the murder of a 32-year-old man after he was attacked outside
his home in Overtown, Wishaw, late last night (Wednesday,
4th November 1998).
The victim, Surjit Singh Chhokar (correct), was attacked
by three white male youths around 11.30pm last night, moments
after parking his car outside his home in Garrion Street on
return from work as a waiter at a Bellshill restaurant.
He collapsed in the street and was taken to hospital, where
he was found dead on arrival.
Door-to-door inquiries are taking place, in the area
and a further close search of the Street will also
be carried out.
A post-mortem examination will take place later today to
establish the cause of death, therefore details of his injuries
will not be released for the time being.
The three youths are described as in their late teens, of
slim build, 5ft 7 ins to 5ft 9 ins tall and wearing dark clothing.
They made off on foot west down Garrion Street and via a lane
towards the main A71 after being disturbed by a local resident.
Detective Inspector Kenny McIver, the officer in charge
of the inquiry, said: `Although the inquiry is at its early
stages, we are following a positive line of inquiry and I
can say that there does not appear to he any racial motive
However, I would appeal for anyone who was in
Garrion Street area around 11.30pm last night or anyone with
any information to contact Wishaw Police at 01698 372592 or
Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.'
7.30 I focus here on the second last paragraph, which I have
highlighted. I took evidence on this from Chief Supt (as he
was at that date) Sandy Forrest. He was the Divisional Commander
at that time and was personally involved in discussion with
the police Media Services in the drafting of the release. Mr
Forrest told me that he had previously served as an Inspector
in the Pollok area of Glasgow. He was thereafter promoted to
Chief Inspector and then Chief Superintendent in the Govan area
of Glasgow. Mr Forrest said he also spent a significant part
of his police service in Giffnock. These areas, I was told,
are the principal ethnic minority residential communities in
7.31 Mr Forrest said that he had a great deal of experience
in dealing with the Sikh and Muslim communities and that he
chaired a MARIM9 group
and was involved in multi-agency training. I was told by him
that the MARIM group had two principal roles, firstly to
monitor how the police or other agencies deal with racial incidents
and, secondly, whenever necessary, to form a task force to deal
with issues which may arise in the aftermath of an incident.
He cited an example when there was an incident at Bellahouston
Academy and there were "rivers of blood" headlines.
I was left in no doubt that ACC Forrest was a police officer
who was highly experienced in operational duties in areas of
Glasgow with high minority ethnic populations. He said that
his experiences in these areas could do nothing other than inform
the process of policing minority ethnic communities.
7.32 In relation to the news release he told me that there
were conflicting views within Strathclyde Police about both
content and timing -
"First thing in the morning, I got a call from Susan
Dean from Media Services to clear a press release with me.
I said under no circumstances should that draft press release
be released. I said that I disagreed with the decision. My
comment at 0054 hours was for internal consumption and
although we were into the investigation stage by the time
of the press release, I did not think it was right to make
such a release. I phoned Kenny MacIver and he was adamant
that he did not want the press release to go out in that way.
Kenny MacIver did not phrase the press release and did not
approve of it going out in that way. The press release was
phrased by the Media Services Group. I had an argument with
Susan Dean about this and Kenny MacIver was outraged at the
Susan Dean's argument was that the details of the deceased
were already in the public domain, press speculation was already
to the effect that the crime was racially motivated and that
we should pour oil on that and say that it did not appear
to be. She argued that if we did not make the press release,
the media would speculate. Kenny MacIver and I were of the
view that it was too early, that there were still people to
be seen and things to be done. I thought the bit at the end
of the press release regarding racial motivation was gratuitous."
7.33 Susan Dean was the Deputy Head of the Press Office at
Strathclyde Police Media Services. She was not a police officer.
Mr Forrest was firm in his evidence that had the decision been
left to either himself or DI MacIver the press release would
not have been made.
7.34 In relation to the timing of information about motivation,
Mr Forrest told me that both he and DI MacIver were of the view
that, notwithstanding the fact that details of the deceased
were already in the public domain and the existence of press
speculation about the crime being racially motivated, the press
release was too early. He said there was need for further investigation.
He told me that he was ultimately relying upon his experience
as a senior police officer, in particular in dealing with issues
where race was a sensitive issue; and it was that experience
which persuaded him that the press release should not be made
in those terms.
7.35 I was told that the Deputy Head of the Press Office was
working under the authority of the Deputy Chief Constable. The
decision for issuing the Press Release was one taken by Strathclyde
Police by an officer of ACPO rank. The procedure however made
no provision for Chief Supt Burton, in the Community Involvement
Branch, to be consulted about the press release. I note also
that DCI Michael and the officers whom he appointed as Family
Liaison Officers that morning apparently had no knowledge of
7.36 I was given another view about the news release by Maggie
Chetty, Senior Officer, West of Scotland Community Relations
Council. She said -
"We at the CRC were shocked but not surprised by
that statement. I did not feel that they had taken enough
time to explore all the relationships. In any sort of incident
where violence is involved and the situation is charged, I
would be surprised if it was not a racial incident".
7.37 Strathclyde Police put their media strategy in this case
under professional scrutiny after the trial of Ronnie Coulter,
in April 1999, in an internal review of the whole case, carried
out by then Detective Superintendent Jeanette Joyce. Chapter
32 below is a commentary on that
report and the handling of it by Strathclyde Police; but it
will be convenient to deal here with what it has to say about
this press release.
7.38 In her evidence to me, Det Supt Joyce took a different
view from Mr Forrest as to the timing of the press release and
said that she considered it was appropriate for the police to
issue the press release at 1050 hours on 5th November
1998. In relation to the paragraph about racial motivation,
she said she had a `preferred option'. She suggested that the
appropriate text might have been "Although the enquiry
is at its early stages, there is no evidence to suggest racial
motivation and a positive line of enquiry is being pursued."
She thought the version issued by the police, attributed to
DI MacIver was `more clinical' and that her version was `softer'.
Her comment was
"it might be fair to say that [the published]
version is more of a conclusion but he was the one dealing
with the case on the spot and had the information to hand.
It may be fair to say that my version is less of a conclusion
in that it does not rule out race."
7.39 Det Supt Joyce sought to impress upon me that she did
not think DI MacIver was wrong with his statement and she founded
on the words "there does not appear" to support her
7.40 In his evidence before me ACC Pearson was of the view
that Det Supt Joyce's version was "a better designed
set of words and is crafted to give an impression but in essence
it does not say anything different from the statement which
was released." It was he said "neater, tighter
and more factual." The original, he said "says
too much too soon".
7.41 By October 2000 the Crown Office had come to the view
that the police were vulnerable because of their initial haste
to announce that the murder was not a racist crime. In a letter
of 20th October 2000 from the Deputy Crown Agent,
Frank Crowe, to Superintendent Ian Gordon, Media and Information
Officer at Strathclyde Police (which I quote in full in chapter
21) there is the statement -
`there may be criticism of the well intentioned decision
of the police shortly after the murder to advise local community
leaders that this was not a racist crime.'
7.42 This was just before the trial of Andrew Coulter and David
Montgomery. The anticipated criticism came after the end of
that trial, in the statement released on 28th November
by the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign which included this -
`Within hours of Surjit's death the most pressing need for
the police was not catching the killers but for a senior police
officer to telephone the only Asian Councillor Bob Chadha
to deny it was a murder of a racial nature and issuing a press
statement claiming the same.'
7.43 That statement was untruthful in saying that catching
the killers was not a priority - the press release itself is
exactly an appeal for help in tracing them - but in my view
it hit the mark in criticising the haste to close off the question
of racial motivation. At any rate it stimulated Strathclyde
Police to reconsider their press release of 5th November
1998. In a memorandum dated 24th November 2000 from
Chief Supt Caroline Scott to the Chief Constable John Orr she
advised that a public explanation for the 1050 hours press release
should be given. She suggested that the explanation should be
given by a media release in the following terms: "It was
evident from a very early stage that the incident was not racially
motivated. We were also conscious of the damage, anger and fear
that could be engendered within the community if such harmful
and inaccurate speculation continued unchecked. It was therefore
essential that we act quickly to put an end to this speculation
- and we did so."
7.44 It seems to me that neither Det Supt Joyce nor Chief Supt
Scott grasped what was wrong with the original press release,
although the officers closer to the action saw it very clearly.
Neither of the alternative versions attempted by the police
avoids the fault of the original: both of them in effect state
that the police are not looking for racial motivation. Det Supt
Joyce's version comes closer to that, though it needs a sophisticated
reader to deduce it. Chief Supt Scott's wording misses the point
completely - so far from putting an end to the `speculation',
it has continued ever since. The irony of all this is that the
original wording was in fact accurate, in that the officers
who took forward the enquiry did fail to investigate the racial
aspect, as I have shown in the previous chapter.
7.45 I recognise that the police were anxious to forestall
inflammatory speculation, and rightly so. That was good race
relations: if an incident is known not to be racist the public
needs to be told so, with authority. But the police undermine
their own credibility with the public, and especially with vulnerable
minority communities, if they are seen to be making such statements
before they have all the evidence in. Their response in this
case was hasty and ill-considered, and thereby did substantial
damage to race relations.
7.46 It is critical that members of minority ethnic communities
can place their faith in what is being said by agencies involved
in the criminal justice system. That faith will only become
richer and fuller in the measure in which the authorities provide
accurate, clear and honest statements. Nothing short of that
7.47 Finally I note that there was no consultation with the
Procurator Fiscal or Crown Office over the news release. I do
not criticise the officers involved for that, since I understand
that it was no part of their normal procedure. However, a murder
enquiry is under the direction of the Procurator Fiscal and
I consider that this ought to extend to control over the release
of information from the police. These matters are too sensitive
to be left to the police alone.
7.48 I have a number of recommendations arising from
this chapter -
· Internal police liaison: in any serious incident
such as a murder, where it seems possible that a racial motive
may be perceived by the public, any communications with the
public or members of the public should be co-ordinated throughout
the Force, and always with the Senior Investigating Officer.
If that had been done in the present case, Chief Supt Burton,
the media office and the Senior Investigating Officer would
all have been in contact with each other throughout.
· Family liaison: similarly, communications with
the public or members of the public should be appropriately
co-ordinated with police contacts with the family of the victim.
The police are already well able to handle situations where
the family have not yet been contacted and do not know there
has been a death. The media are also aware of this kind of
situation and respect it. The same sensitivity should be observed,
by police and media, when the family do know, before anything
is said to any third party or to the media.
· Contacts with `community leaders': in the present
case, Chief Supt Burton was right in principle to think it
would be appropriate to make contact with the person he perceived
as the `community leader'; but such contacts should only be
made on the basis of a clear understanding by both parties,
either that the information given will be held in confidence
or that it may be used in public; and the officer making the
contact should record what has been said.
· No communication should be made to the media
or to any other party, apart from the family, without consultation
with the Procurator Fiscal or, where appropriate, the Crown
· The Lord Advocate should issue guidelines to
the police confirming that any press release or other communication
to parties other than next of kin (or other individuals personally
associated with the victim) should be under the authority
of the Procurator Fiscal, after consultation with the Senior
8. FIRST CONTACT WITH THE FAMILY
This chapter describes the contacts made by the police with
the Chhokar family immediately after the murder.
8.1 The first contact which any member of the Chhokar family
had with the police following Surjit's death was at approximately
0120 hours on 5th November 1998 when Mrs Sanehdeep
Chhokar was told by Detective Constable James Dyas of Surjit's
8.2 DC Dyas had long experience in the area. He joined the
police in 1969 and after postings to Motherwell, Newarthill
(a rural posting) and Bellshill he was transferred to Wishaw
Police Office in 1979 where he has remained to date, with the
exception of a three year period spent at Shotts, which
is in the Wishaw sub-division.
8.3 At 2340 hours DC Dyas was instructed by the Duty Officer
at Motherwell to go to Garrion Street in response to a reported
stabbing. It took him about five minutes to get there.
He was met there by PC John Maclean who told him that Surjit
Singh Chhokar had been stabbed, appeared to be seriously injured
and had been taken to Law Hospital. He arranged for part of
the street to be taped off.
8.4 He went to Law Hospital at about 0015 hours and was told
by hospital staff that Surjit had died. He decided to contact
the relatives. He explained to the Inquiry that he did so for
three reasons. Firstly, he had been asked by a nurse at the
hospital to inform the relatives; secondly, he wished to tell
the Chhokar family before Mrs Bryce did; and, thirdly, from
past dealings with the family he knew that they were Sikh and
was uncertain as to whether there were last rites in that religion.
DC Dyas had the unenviable task of having to bring desperate
news to the Chhokar family.
8.5 DC Dyas knew Surjit, his father and his wife. He lived
in Law himself and knew where Mr Darshan Singh Chhokar lived.
DC Dyas knew Sanehdeep Chhokar from the family's shop. He knew
Surjit because about six years previously he had had to
arrest him in connection with a break-in.
8.6 At approximately 0100 hours he visited Mr Chhokar's house,
along with a colleague, Inspector Speedie, but was unable to
get a response. They confirmed with a neighbour that Mr Chhokar
still lived there. They radioed to Motherwell Police Office
and asked for uniformed officers to attend. A police car from
Carluke came and directed them to Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar's house.
The local Law policeman was in the car and either knew where
Sanehdeep Chhokar lived or had found out. It was three minutes
by car or six minutes' walk from Mr Chhokar's house to
Sanehdeep Chhokar's house. DC Dyas described what happened -
"We got to [Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar's] house
within 20 minutes (approximately 1.20am). She was in bed.
I told her that Surjit Singh Chhokar had been involved in
an incident, had been stabbed and had died. She told her kiddies
that their father had died. She spoke to the children in her
own language. I then asked her to phone Mr Chhokar Senior
which she did. She spoke to her father-in-law in Punjabi and
told him that the police were there.
The widow's English is excellent. No interpreter was needed
for her. She did speak to her children in Punjabi."
8.7 Inspector Speedie and DC Dyas then went, with Mrs Chhokar,
to Mr Chhokar's house. The uniformed officers stayed with
Mrs Chhokar's children at their own home. DC Dyas told
"I spoke to Mr Chhokar senior in English and told
him what had happened. He spoke back to me in English and
I didn't have a difficulty in understanding him. He understood
what I had said to him and was upset.
I told him what had happened and what would happen next.
We were in the living room of the house for about 15 minutes.
I never saw Mr Chhokar senior's wife. Mr Chhokar
got ready and we went to the hospital along with the deceased's
8.8 DC Dyas has said that he found Mr Chhokar's English "slow
and fractional" but that he was able to hold a conversation.
DC Dyas knew that Mr Chhokar could both understand and speak
English and could have a conversation, although slowly, about
everyday things. He remembered a previous conversation with
Mr Chhokar about Alsatian dogs.
"It never occurred to me that he would need an interpreter
at that stage. His daughter-in-law was there and she speaks
excellent English. They spoke to one another in Punjabi. They
appeared to be able to relate to one another.
We then drove to Law Hospital which took about 5 minutes
and arrived some time after 2am [0215 hours]. We went
to the mortuary and they were with the body for quite a while.
Mr Chhokar senior was distraught and in tears. It took
him a while to compose himself. ...Mrs Chhokar had been
upset in her own house when we first told her the news but
was a million times worse when we were in Mr Chhokar
8.9 The body was formally identified to the police. DC Dyas,
in the presence of Inspector Speedie, noted statements from
both Darshan and Sanehdeep Chhokar in Law Hospital. He wanted
early information for the enquiry. He explained that it took
approximately 5-10 minutes to note a statement from Mr Chhokar
and that Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar was able to assist with spelling,
dates of birth and so on. DC Dyas said that Sanehdeep Chhokar
was acting as an unofficial interpreter and that he treated
her as such.
"Mr Chhokar's English was slow and I wanted to speed
things up. I did not want to detain him too long at this stage.
His son had just been murdered - he needed time by himself
and with the family.
The purpose of the short interview at this stage was to
ascertain the family background, to ascertain who's who.
[This information was reported back to colleagues and was
put into the Sudden Death Report.]... At that stage information
is required to set the scene for those who follow on with
further enquiries later that day. The information could then
be expanded at a later stage.
I am not interested in talking to the family about motive
etc at that stage. Once I had obtained the information about
the family background, the scene was set. Mr Chhokar Senior's
son had just been murdered - it was time to leave him then
and, if need be, see him again later."
8.10 In his brief statement to the police Mr Chhokar indicated
that Surjit was his son, was married to, but separated from,
his wife and lived with his girlfriend in Garrion Street, Overtown.
In relation to Mrs Bryce, Mr Chhokar said, "I take nothing
to do with her". DC Dyas formed the impression that
"[Mr Chhokar's] son's marriage had broken up
and he didn't particularly like Mrs Bryce and had washed
his hands of her". The remainder of the statement dealt
with the formal identification of Surjit.
8.11 DC Dyas also noted a brief statement from Sanehdeep Chhokar
in which she advised the police that she was married to Surjit
but was separated from him. She indicated that she lived in
Law village with their two children while her husband had lived
in Gowkthrapple. The remainder of the statement dealt with the
formal identification of her husband.
8.12 DC Dyas thereafter took Mr Chhokar and his daughter-in-law
back to their own homes in Law village. He explained to them
that detectives would be back to see them in the morning. Sanehdeep
Chhokar told him that Surjit had a sister, Manjit Sengha, who
spoke English. He arranged for Mrs Sengha to be present in the
morning with the family when they met detective officers and
to act as an interpreter if required. DC Dyas explained that
he did not believe Mr Chhokar required an interpreter but felt
the presence of Mrs Sengha, who could speak English, might "speed
things up for the family and make them more relaxed".
He made a distinction between different levels of language ability
by relating it to his own experience -
"I speak French but I am not fluent in it. It is
schoolboy French and I have not studied it beyond school.
I have used my French in France and I appreciate what it is
like to try and speak in another language - it is difficult."
8.13 DC Dyas then returned to Wishaw Police Office at about
0400 hours and briefed other detective officers on the information
he had gathered. He told other officers what he knew of the
circumstances of Surjit's death, the injuries sustained by him,
details of the witnesses who had formally identified the body
and the family background.
8.14 DC Dyas took statements from several other witnesses but
otherwise had no further involvement in the murder enquiry.
8.15 In my opinion, DC Dyas was well suited to meeting the
family under very difficult circumstances and therefore the
initial contact with the Chhokar family was effective and sympathetic.
Its purpose was to tell the family that Surjit had been killed,
to assist them in getting to the hospital, secure formal identification
of the body and to lay the groundwork for subsequent police
contact whether relating to the enquiry or for family liaison.
8.16 I formed the view that, in pursuing these ends, DC Dyas
was sensitive to the family's circumstances and to their immediate
needs. He saw their distress and sought to minimise any additional
burden on them by keeping the formalities of identification
and taking of statements as brief as possible. He put himself
in their shoes. Though he did not know whether, as Sikhs, the
family had religious needs, such as the administration of last
rites, he was alert to the possibility and that is one of the
reasons he cited for his decision to go and notify the family
quickly. He was alert to the possible language difficulties
and, though he was content that Mr Chhokar did not need an interpreter
at that stage, he made arrangements for Mrs Sengha to be with
her parents when the police next called. He briefed his colleagues
within an hour of his attending with the family. No information
9. SELECTION AND BRIEFING OF FAMILY
This chapter deals with the selection and initial briefing
of the Family Liaison Officers (FLOs). The selection was well
founded and the individuals chosen brought relevant experience
to the task; but the initial briefing which they were given
failed to anticipate that the family would want to know whether
the crime had a racial motive.
Criteria for selection of Family Liaison Officers
9.1 In November 1998 the function of a Family Liaison Officer
had not yet been developed into the specialism which it has
since become. Nevertheless, those involved in this case did
recognise the role that needed to be undertaken. It is possible
to build a picture of what the police thought was required in
this case from the evidence of those involved, namely DCI Michael
who selected the Family Liaison Officers and the officers whom
he chose - Detective Sergeant Duffy, Police Constable Laverick
and Detective Sergeant Smith.
9.2 When considering the appointment of Family Liaison Officers,
DCI Michael told me that he looked for good communication
skills and experience. He saw the role as an important concern
from a human point of view. The officers needed an ability to
be sympathetic towards the bereaved and, in this case, experience
of working with ethnic minority families was also an advantage.
The family needed police reassurance that enquiries were being
carried out. The Family Liaison Officers would have needed to
explain the family's responsibilities, which might include identifying
the body (although this had already been done at Law Hospital
earlier that morning, it would need to be done again at the
post mortem). They would be responsible for liaison with the
Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) and with other agencies.
Family Liaison Officers are also part of the investigation team.
A Family Liaison Officer might, for example, have had to take
statements from family members about delicate issues.
9.3 DC Dyas became involved in the case when it was first reported
to the police because he was the officer on night duty; but
he was not appointed as a Family Liaison Officer.
9.4 The Family Liaison Officers were appointed at or shortly
after 0800 hours on the morning following the murder, Thursday
5th November. DCI John Michael selected three officers:
DS Ian Duffy and PC Lynn Laverick in the primary role and DS
Jim Smith as a "back-up" should one of the others
be unavailable for any reason. I have taken evidence from each
DS Ian Duffy
9.5 DS Duffy joined Strathclyde Police in 1972 and spent four years
in uniform in `A' Division which covered the Charing Cross area
of Glasgow. He then spent eleven years in the CID at `A'
Division, after which he was promoted to the rank of Detective
Sergeant and was stationed at `P' Division in Lanarkshire.
He gave evidence to me over three days. He summed up his policing
experience for the Inquiry -
"'A' Division is a multi-racial area of Glasgow.
There is a large Chinese community in Garnethill, as well
as a large Indian and Pakistani community to the west of that.
I have a lot of experience in dealing with people from ethnic
minority backgrounds - from day-to-day matters such as burst
pipes, vandalism and football in the street to more serious
investigations, including a number of murder enquiries. I
have worked with almost every ethnic minority community in
9.6 DS Duffy told me that he had been involved in significant
incidents involving black and ethnic minority communities and
listed: the enquiry in relation to the murder of the Hector
Smith, a West Indian, approximately 25 years ago; the murder
of the Chinese victim Philip Wong; and the murder enquiry regarding
an Asian victim found in Sauchiehall Street.
9.7 DS Duffy had considerable experience of police work with
ethnic minority communities. He had been a Family Liaison Officer
on previous occasions, though this was his first time as a Family
Liaison Officer working with a family from an ethnic minority
community in a murder enquiry.
9.8 He described his policing methods -
"I am aware of the sensitivities involved in dealing
with ethnic minority families. During my time at `A' Division
in Glasgow I had a close relationship and contact with the
community. I was friendly with restaurateurs, shopkeepers
etc. I would also go in for a cup of tea and listen to their
problems. At that time it was all foot patrol - there
were no mobile patrols. This led to a closer relationship
with the community. It was not called community policing at
that time but that is what it was. Community police officers
now are required to attend community meetings.
During that time I was in and out of people's homes. We
did not call them 'ethnic minorities' at that time. They were
just the people that lived there. The name 'ethnic minority'
did not exist then."
9.9 He was promoted in 1987, and moved to Lanarkshire and worked
in `P' Division which covered Shotts, Harthill, Wishaw,
Bellshill and Uddingston. `N' and `P' Divisions when amalgamated
included Coatbridge, Kilsyth and Cumbernauld. In November 1998
he was based at Motherwell Police Office.
9.10 He saw a contrast between the two communities in Glasgow
and Lanarkshire -
"The community in Lanarkshire was mixed. I know that
there is a large Muslim community at Mossend where they are
building a new Mosque. There are more Muslims than Sikhs in
Lanarkshire but I don't know exact numbers.
I am not aware of any racial tensions in Lanarkshire.
I know that during Ramadam there can be various parking problems,
vehicle break-ins etc., but I honestly do not know of any
real racial problems. There have not been any in my time there.
I worked in the multi-racial heartland of Glasgow. Lanarkshire
has much less of an ethnic minority community."
9.11 DS Duffy retained his responsibilities with regard to
the Incident Room and the investigation. This was normal, with
Family Liaison Officers being part of the investigation team.
In the Chhokar case DS Duffy had responsibility for the house-to-house
enquiries and was also the office manager. He described his
"Everything comes to me as office manger and I control
it. It is a very busy zone and can be highly pressured. There
are lots of things happening and you have to control the paper
flow etc. ... My duty as office manager is to feed information
to the SIO. I speak to him. It is not any more formal at that
time. Information is not passed directly to the SIO from officers
dealing with enquiries. The information always comes through
me as office manager. ...The officers coming into the Incident
Room can be from anywhere - uniform, senior officers etc.
Part of my task is to prioritise the information I receive
and the tasks which require to be actioned."
DS Duffy as Family Liaison Officer
9.12 DS Duffy identified a Family Liaison Officer "as
having good skills, a wider view of life, someone that the family
can identify with. The family do not want to see a 20 year
old coming into their house to tell them about the murder of
their son. They want to see a more experienced officer that
they think they can trust."
9.13 DS Duffy had considerable experience of working in and
with members of ethnic minority communities. He had the necessary
sensitivity to undertake the role and, as an officer with 26
years' experience at the time of murder, had sufficient seniority
to inspire confidence in both his senior officers and the relatives.
He was aware of the sensitivities of the role and was willing
to take it on:
"I had no problems being allocated the FLO task.
If given the choice, however, I would rather have been allocated
a different task. It is a hard, sensitive task. You have to
be sympathetic, give them information about other agencies,
take an interest in their sorrow. This can be stressful. If
given the choice of doing that or something else, I think
I would probably want to do something else. There are officers
who find the FLO task very hard but professionalism carries
you through. You can grieve with the family but there is no
point in you crying as well."
9.14 He was also aware of the reasons for the team being selected
and of the relevance of his experience:
"The choice of FLO is crucial and thought must be
put into the decision. DCI John Michael thought of my
experience in `A' Division and of the fact that Lynn
lived in the village. I think it was a remarkable blend in
this case. John Michael did not just walk into a room
and pick the first two people he saw. Lynn had experience
of dealing with cot death cases etc, which are also very traumatic."
PC Lynn Laverick
9.15 PC Laverick joined Strathclyde Police in 1991 and was
a probationary constable based at Motherwell Police Office.
She remained in uniform until February 1995 when she was seconded
to the Female and Child Unit. In September 1995 she was appointed
to plain clothes duties and in January 1996 was seconded to
the Drug Squad. In April 1996 she returned to uniform mobile
patrol duties and was involved in policing various 'Spotlight
9.16 In May 1997 she was appointed to the Female and Child
Unit, where she worked closely with CID officers and was also
involved in major incidents, including murder enquiries.
9.17 She lived in Law Village and knew Mr and Mrs Chhokar and
Sanehdeep Chhokar. She used the family's shop in the village
and had done so for a long time. She also knew Surjit. She was
confident that the family would be able to speak to her.
9.18 PC Laverick perceived her role as "not to act
as a counsellor but I am there to listen, to be a shoulder to
9.19 PC Laverick was also part of the investigating team. She
described her roles -
"I was also appointed as an Indexer in the Incident
Room. When a line of enquiry is being pursued an officer is
allocated to follow that line. I would then update the information
obtained by that officer, for example, what a witness saw,
whether a vehicle was involved. The indexer's job is quite
a responsible, onerous task. Sometimes the FLO task can be
particularly demanding for a period of time. If I was engaged
with FLO duties someone else would have been appointed as
indexer. That did not happen in this case."
PC Laverick as Family Liaison Officer
9.20 PC Laverick brought skills and experience which were complementary
to those of DS Duffy. With seven years police service she was
significantly less experienced than DS Duffy, but she had recent
experience as a Family Liaison Officer in two cases. Whilst
in the Female and Child Unit she had been involved in dealing
with the victims of rape, other sexual assaults and domestic
abuse, and with families in the aftermath of cot death tragedies.
9.21 She knew the family. This had
potential advantages as well as disadvantages. It offered the
possibility of the police establishing good contact with them,
but carried the risk that either the family or PC Laverick might
feel uncomfortable given the sudden change in the nature of
their relationship which had until then been as acquaintances.
Living close to the family risked putting additional pressure
on PC Laverick. Her senior officers were aware of the potential
difficulty for her and asked whether she was content to undertake
the role. She told me -
"I was also asked if I objected to dealing with the
family as I knew them. I think it is a good idea to appoint
someone who knows the family. I don't think it could be a
hindrance. I knew the family would be able to speak to me".
She therefore felt that she could engage with the family and
did not have any problems so doing.
9.22 Her evidence shows that the
police had considered not only whether PC Laverick would have
a problem, but also whether her presence in the Family Liaison
Officer team would have an adverse effect on the family. There
is, however, no evidence that this question was put to the family.
9.23 PC Laverick's experience as
a Family Liaison Officer was recent (in two cases in the previous
18 months). This had the advantage that she was used to undertaking
the role. However, the stresses involved in the role are significant
and there is no evidence that the senior officers took this
into account in allocating her the task. (Practice has since
changed so that Family Liaison Officers are given a break between
cases to ensure that they do not `burn out'.)
DS Jim Smith
9.24 DS Smith had 21 years' police service, most of which
had been spent in CID. The first 12 years were spent in
'A' Division in Glasgow City Centre. He too described his
work in the context of a multi-ethnic community.
"This Division is made up of a multi-ethnic community.
I worked at both Stewart Street and Cranstonhill Police Offices.
These areas cover Woodlands and Garnethill in Glasgow. The
Woodlands area has a large Asian and Pakistani community,
while the Garnethill area has a large Chinese population.
During my time in 'A' Division in Glasgow, I spent
a lot of time dealing with people from ethnic minority backgrounds.
This was probably on a daily basis. I would say that I had
more experience than a lot of police officers in dealing with
people from such backgrounds. There is not such a large ethnic
minority community in North Lanarkshire. My contact with people
from ethnic minority backgrounds has ranged from speaking
to people on the street to investigating murder cases.
I was involved in the Incident Room at Cranstonhill Police
Office in relation to the high profile case of the Asian woman
who had her throat cut in Woodlands. ... I had no contact
with the family in that case. I am HOLMES10
trained and was the receiver and action allocator in that
While I was based at Cranstonhill Police Office, I sat
on the MARIM11 group
a few times. I found that exercise quite informative. I do
not think it helped me as an investigator but it did help
me as an individual and as a police officer. This was back
in the late 1980s. I did not do it for long. Being involved
in the group raises awareness of other people's needs, for
example, cremation. It makes you more sensitive to other people's
9.25 DS Smith spent two years as a uniformed officer at Airdrie
Police Office and was promoted in February 1993 to the rank
of sergeant. He has been based at Motherwell CID since 1994.
9.26 In the Chhokar case DS Smith was the receiver, statement
reader and action allocator in the Incident Room. He described
that role as follows -
"In a manual incident room you can change position
almost hourly if needs be. As a receiver every document would
come through my hands. As a statement reader, as a rule, in
a perfect world, every statement should be read. But if I
was not there, for example, someone else could read statements
such as Ian Duffy. The SIO or his deputy would also read statements.
When I read statements I also act on what I see - that
is my job as action allocator. It is my job to prioritise
actions. I would write comments on the statement and instruct
an action to be raised for that. I would also be involved
in prioritising actions. However, before any action goes anywhere,
the SIO or his deputy would read the proposed action and prioritise
them relevant to priority lines of enquiry. I would write
the action on the statement as there are several copies of
the statement, for example, the SIO has a copy, I would have
a copy and there are copies for the enquiry team."
The Family Liaison Officer team
9.27 The Family Liaison Officer role is a delicate one and
the officers were selected for their particular skills and experience.
The selection of a team requires a balance of skills. In DCI
Michael's own words -
"To my knowledge, the officers I selected have the
right skills to be FLOs....I knew that DS Duffy was used
to dealing with different victims of crime including minority
victims. PC Laverick was at that time working in the
Female and Child Unit and had a good bit of experience. She
also lived locally, knew the family and was on good terms
with them. I thought that would be helpful. DS Smith
was HOLMES trained and had worked on a large number of murder
cases. He was one of the most senior detectives there at that
I have worked on over 20 murder enquiries in the
last 2 years. I would in most cases appoint an officer
of at least the rank of sergeant as an FLO. An FLO requires
good communication skills and experience. I trust my staff
but there are people I trust to a greater degree. The most
major enquiry is a murder enquiry, regardless of colour or
creed. I would appoint officers I could trust as FLOs.
The fact the deceased was Indian did make me think of
DS Duffy as FLO because of his previous experience in
dealing with victims of different ethnic backgrounds. I was
also aware that PC Laverick knew the family."
Briefing the Family Liaison Officers
9.28 DCI Michael and DI MacIver
briefed the Family Liaison Officers in Wishaw Police Office
in the morning of 5th November. Detective Superintendent
Jim Gemmell, DCI Michael and DS Smith had arranged for two Punjabi-speaking
police officers to be available to act as interpreters should
the need arise. DCI Michael outlined the briefing -
"I identified their roles and we discussed various
things including interpreters. I can't remember the names
of the officers who were contacted to act as potential interpreters -
I believe one was an Asian officer from 'G' Division
and the other was an officer from 'A' Division.
Through experience you become aware of the needs of people.
I didn't refer to any policy - the question of interpreters
was in my head. A list of interpreters is kept by the Force
duty officer. Any member of the community could struggle with
complex legal terms. We do not make assumptions about anybody,
for example, we treat children at a different level. We deal
with people from all different backgrounds and all levels.
I am confident that the FLOs in this case would have been
aware of that.
We also discussed leaflets available for the family and
identified suitable material. DS Smith was aware of a
leaflet from 'A' Division for Asian victims of crime
and he obtained a copy of that.
The FLOs would also be briefed on the family structure
as known to me at that stage. The FLO would have to know this
in order to know who to liaise with. The family structure
in this case was not particularly complex - dysfunctional
families are not that uncommon these days. It is complex to
the extent that you have to keep in touch with different members
of the family but I see that as important. But who you liaise
with would also depend on the reaction of the particular family,
who wants to be involved etc. It also depends on the level
of family response. Sometimes we have to develop a withdrawal
9.29 Following this briefing DS Duffy and PC Laverick went
to pay their first visit to the Chhokar family.
9.30 I have the following comments on the selection and briefing
of these officers -
· The Senior Investigating Officer's approach to
selection was sound. The individuals selected as Family Liaison
Officers were good choices and approached their assignments
with good sense and sensitivity.
· Due consideration was given to the implications
of PC Laverick's acquaintance with the family. An officer who
knows the family would not necessarily always be the right choice,
for example where the person was unacceptable to the family,
or where a family member was a suspect or had a close connection
with a suspect. In this case however PC Laverick's previous
acquaintance with members of the family did assist in giving
the family, in particular Sanehdeep Chhokar, confidence in the
relationship with the police.
· The briefing emphasised the possible need for
interpreters, and the provision being made. This was sensible
· The briefing did not however anticipate the question
which the family raised, as to whether the crime was racially
motivated. It should have done so. The Senior Investigating
Officer should have anticipated that this question would arise
anyway in the course of their enquiry; and the family could
have been expected to be able to shed some light on it. The
Family Liaison Officers were also members of the investigating
team and would have had a role to play in this. (Chapter 6
deals with this issue at length)
10. FIRST LIAISON VISIT TO THE
This chapter deals with the Family Liaison Officers' first
visit to the Chhokar family, on 5th November 1998,
the day after the murder. It examines the assumptions and decisions
which the police made about who should be contacted by the Family
Liaison Officers, and where; describes the visit, what the police
said and did and how they were received; examines the question
of using interpreters, and the police responses to questions
as to whether the murder had a racial motive and about whether
the body could be released for cremation.
`Next of kin'
10.1 In setting up family liaison arrangements the police have
to establish who is to be considered as `family'. In this case
they were well placed to do so, since DC Dyas, whose
involvement on the night of the murder has been described in
a previous chapter, knew the victim's father, Darshan Singh
Chhokar, his widow, Sanehdeep Chhokar and his girlfriend
with whom he was living, Elizabeth Bryce. As noted above, DC
Dyas had taken it on himself to see that the father was informed
of the death immediately, and in the course of doing so had
had to call on the wife and break the news to her. They had
identified the body at the hospital. Elizabeth Bryce was of
course a witness to the event. These were the people who might
have a claim to be considered `family'.
10.2 DS Duffy, appointed the next morning as the lead
Family Liaison Officer, had no previous knowledge of any of
these people, and had to rely on the briefing given him by the
Senior Investigating Officer, DCI Michael. DS Duffy told me
"I was given certain information prior to going to
visit the family for the first time. When I went to the family,
I knew that Surjit Singh Chhokar had been murdered by three
white men in the street. ... I was made aware that the family
resided in Law Village ... I was made aware that the deceased's
father was a shopkeeper in the village. I also knew that the
deceased was married with children. ... I did not know the
full extent of the deceased's separation from his wife at
10.3 DS Duffy did not specifically mention having been briefed
about Mrs Bryce, but as the officer responsible for the Incident
Room he would be aware of her as a witness. He drew the conclusion
that she was not part of the family -
"The widow was also part of the family but Bryce
was not as far as I was concerned. I did not regard it as
a complex family arrangement. The widow was under the umbrella
of that family. I had no involvement with the witness Bryce."
10.4 PC Laverick knew the Chhokar family, as neighbours
in Law village, but had no contact at any time with Mrs Bryce.
The briefing she received was simply -
"I was advised that Surjit and Sanehdeep were separated
and that he was living with another woman and had another
10.5 DCI Michael, the Senior Investigating Officer in
this case, confirmed the police view of Mrs Bryce's status when
he told me -
"I would regard the legal next of kin in this case
as the deceased's wife. We also had close liaison with Elizabeth
Bryce. She was in for interview on a number of occasions and
withheld important information for a number of days."
10.6 Elizabeth Bryce was a witness to the murder and gave a
first formal statement to the police at 0131 hours on Thursday
5th November 1998. She subsequently gave three more
statements; at 1945 hours on Thursday 5th November,
at 1200 hours on Saturday 7th November and at 1110
hours on Sunday 8th November. The police were therefore
in contact with her as a witness. PC Laverick put it thus -
"I have never had any contact with Elizabeth Bryce.
I was made aware that she had been brought into Wishaw Police
Office for interview regarding the circumstances. It was clear
from these interviews that her loyalties did not lie with
Surjit Singh Chhokar. If I had gone in there to deal with
her as next-of-kin then I may have given her information which
she had not already given to the police."
10.7 To sum up this evidence: the police identified Darshan
Singh Chhokar and Sanehdeep Chhokar (and her children) as the
`family' of the murder victim, with whom they should liaise,
but regarded his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bryce, as a witness only.
10.8 Were they right to exclude Mrs
Bryce from family liaison arrangements? I do not think so. Although
she and Surjit had been living together for only three or four
months, she had had a relationship with him for six years. The
police were aware of this from the first statement which they
took from her at 0131 hours in the morning of 5th
November. They were aware therefore that she had been bereaved
by Surjit's death.
10.9 I recognise of course the complication that Mrs Bryce
was also a key witness. The police needed to exercise particular
caution in dealing with her, given her initial unhelpful approach.
PC Laverick said that Mrs Bryce's loyalties did not lie with
Surjit. The police needed to take four statements from Mrs Bryce
with regard to the attack. They focused on her purely as a witness.
That was justified while they were still engaged in getting
essential information from her - that was their primary duty.
10.10 Nevertheless, that could not absolve them from the duty
to try to offer the support and information about progress in
the case which a bereaved person is entitled to expect. The
circumstances of a case will dictate how the police will treat
any individual. In this case they might - for example - have
seen to it that she was given the leaflets which they gave to
the Chhokar family (see paragraph 10.21
below). No such action was taken. When DCI Michael told me that
the police were in "close liaison" with Mrs Bryce,
I do not accept that this contact with Mrs Bryce could be described
as family liaison. I have to conclude that the police either
neglected to offer family liaison support to Mrs Bryce or deliberately
excluded her from it. That is a decision, and an implied moral
judgment which they were not entitled to make.
The Chhokar Family
10.11 When, on the morning of 5th November 1998,
DS Duffy and PC Laverick made their first visit as Family Liaison
Officers, they went to the home of Surjit's parents in Law village.
DS Duffy told me that he assumed that Sanehdeep would also be
there because he was aware that in such situations the father
would take charge of making any necessary arrangements. DS Duffy
also thought that the house was the family home and thought
that Sanehdeep lived there.
10.12 This betrays inadequate briefing. The police considered
Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar to be the next of kin. I have no criticism
of that decision. They also intended to give support to Surjit's
parents and sister. I have no criticism of that. However, the
police also assumed that Mr Chhokar's home should be the first
point of contact. The police had a separate address for Sanehdeep
Chhokar and both addresses should have been treated as
primary points of contact until the police were told otherwise.
The briefing which the officers were given before visiting the
relatives should have been based on the information available
to the police at that point. This included the addresses of
Mr Chhokar and Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar. In the event they found
their way to both addresses on the night of the murder, and
found Sanehdeep at the home of Mr Chhokar when the Family Liaison
Officers visited - but that was fortuitous.
First visit by the Family Liaison Officers
10.13 DS Duffy and PC Laverick called on Mr Chhokar on the
morning of 5th November. Mr Chhokar answered
the door. They introduced themselves as police officers and
were invited into the home. They were taken to the kitchen/sitting
area where they met Mrs Gurdev Chhokar (Surjit's mother), Mrs
Manjit Sengha (his sister) and Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar (his widow).
Sanehdeep Chhokar knew PC Laverick and greeted her - evidently
her presence was welcome to the widow, and this undoubtedly
helped the liaison off to a good start. There was another man
there whom the police officers did not know but whom they understood
to be a relative from London. There was another living room
area which appeared to be busy but the officers were not introduced
to anyone in that room. The living room door stayed closed except
to allow people out and in as they went to and from the kitchen.
10.14 The Family Liaison Officers offered their condolences.
They saw and heard family members in great distress. The family
were grieving. DS Duffy observed -
"There was a lot of screaming, bawling and shouting
in the house. Mr Chhokar was distraught. He was not saying
much to us."
"In the kitchen at that time was Mr Chhokar,
the deceased's wife Sandy [Sanehdeep] who was hanging
onto the leg of the deceased's sister, Manjit. Sandy was screaming
the place down. There were other members of the family there."
"[Sanehdeep] was not in a fit state to be spoken
10.15 The family's grief made a significant impact on the officers:
"There was clear distress in that house, I will never
forget the screaming and wailing. It was exceptional."
10.16 PC Laverick told me, "[Sanehdeep] was
hysterical. She was sitting on the floor next to Manjit, screaming
and crying and hanging onto Manjit's leg."
10.17 DS Duffy got the impression that he was dealing with
"a family together".
Explanation of Family Liaison Officer role
10.18 DS Duffy was aware of the difficulties in communicating
with a family suffering such grief and that this first meeting
was not the best time to give information to the family. However,
that was his role. ("There was nothing I could say to
them but I was doing my best to give them information.")
He explained to the family that he and PC Laverick were the
Family Liaison Officers. He explained that they were there to
keep them fully updated regarding every stage of the enquiry.
He said that the police were continuing to conduct enquiries
and that a definite line of enquiry was being followed. He did
not give further details because of the need to preserve the
integrity of the enquiry.
10.19 He went on to explain that in this and subsequent meetings
he and PC Laverick would answer any questions which the family
had. They would explain police procedures and what would happen
next. They would also explain the role of the Procurator Fiscal
and how the police reported cases to the Procurator Fiscal.
This would be a continuing process.
10.20 The family were told about the requirement for a post
mortem and that two of them would be required to identify the
body. The Family Liaison Officers were sensitive to the effect
which this might have on the grieving family and apologised
because they knew that the body had already been identified
at Law Hospital. DS Duffy asked the family if they required
transport to the Mortuary in Glasgow and Mr Chhokar said they
did not. The Family Liaison Officers told the family that someone
from the police would be at the Mortuary to meet them.
10.21 They explained to the family
that there were various organisations to help them and explained
to them about People Experiencing Trauma And Loss (PETAL), an
organisation which provides support to families of murder victims,
and Victim Support Scotland (VSS). They gave the family a PETAL
leaflet, a Victim Support Scotland leaflet and a leaflet entitled
"What Happens Next?", along with other police-generated
leaflets. The leaflets were in simple English. DS Duffy explained
to the family that the VSS and PETAL leaflets were from people
who had been in similar circumstances to those which the family
were now in. These leaflets were left with the family but Mr
Chhokar did not look at them when the Family Liaison Officers
10.22 At the briefing before this visit, the police officers
had discussed what leaflets should be given to the family. DS Smith
was aware of a leaflet from `A' Division for Asian victims
of crime and he obtained a copy of that. From the evidence before
me I do not know at which meeting the family were given the
leaflet, or indeed whether they were ever given it.
10.23 Passing information to bereaved relatives is a crucial
part of family liaison. Leaflets are a way of giving information
which allows a family to take it in when they feel up to it.
They reduce the need for explanations by the Family Liaison
Officers and thus reduce the length of visits and intrusion
into the family's grieving. In this instance, the police handed
the leaflets to Mr Chhokar but did not check whether he, or
others in the family, would be able to understand them. The
level of English being spoken may have led them to believe that
all members of the family could read the leaflets, but
the question should have been asked. I note however that under
current practice police Family Liaison Officers are now expected
to provide and explain the Home Office Pack for
Families of Homicide Victims.
10.24 Given the circumstances of this introductory meeting,
the Family Liaison Officers covered a lot of areas of benefit
to the family including their role, forthcoming stages and procedures
and the existence of organisations which could offer assistance
and support. This was a constructive start.
10.25 Family Liaison is dependent on the ability of the Family
Liaison Officers to communicate with the bereaved relatives.
It is necessary therefore that for any family liaison visit
where the relatives may have difficulties dealing with the situation
in English, the police assess whether there is a need for an
10.26 DC Dyas had made an assessment of Mr Chhokar's English,
namely that Mr Chhokar could hold a conversation, although slowly,
about everyday things, and he had established that Sanehdeep
Chhokar's English was fluent. He had reported back on this;
and DCI Michael, before briefing the Family Liaison Officers
for their visit, had identified the possible need for interpreters
and had made arrangements for two police officers to be on standby
to act as interpreters if needed (paragraph 9.28).
DC Dyas had also arranged for Mrs Sengha to be at her father's
"to act as an interpreter if needed. I did not think
that Mr Chhokar senior required an interpreter but arranged
for the deceased's sister to be there just in case. It might
speed things up for the family and make them more relaxed".
10.27 The police had therefore made a preliminary assessment
of the family's need and had taken appropriate action in arranging
to have interpreters on standby, and the Family Liaison Officers
were briefed to offer the services of an interpreter. DS Duffy
"The family was offered the services of an interpreter -
that is guaranteed. I asked Mr Chhokar. I had to ask
it because I was instructed to do so by the SIO. Officers
were on standby. I wouldn't have asked him bluntly, 'do you
want an interpreter?'. I would have said something along the
lines of, 'are you happy speaking to me or do you want someone
else here?' He was clear that I was talking about someone
to speak to in his own language. Manjit [Sengha] was
also there and she speaks English. She was also clear about
what I was saying. She did not say anything to me about Mr Chhokar
not speaking English. He nodded his head indicating that he
did not require an interpreter. I did not want to push it
after that, for example, 'Are you sure? Do you not want an
interpreter?' That would be patronising to Mr Chhokar.
If an interpreter had been required there would have been
one there. It was not required."
10.28 DS Duffy and PC Laverick told me that they were left
in no doubt that Mr Chhokar understood what was being said to
him. He sought clarification on a few points by asking questions.
10.29 It is important that, when an offer of an interpreter
is made, it is clearly understood. The phrasing of the offer
can be important. DS Duffy said that he did not ask the question
direct, but said "something along the lines of, 'are
you happy speaking to me or do you want someone else here?'".
In evidence to me, Assistant Chief Constable Pearson commented
on this approach -
"That is not a good way of doing it. Firstly, that
approach could have been misunderstood by Mr Chhokar
and he might not have known that Mr Duffy was talking about
professional interpreters. Secondly, the family is dealing
with grief and loss at that stage and may not be concentrating
on other issues. We would take additional steps now to make
sure that as a family group the services of an interpreter
were not wanted. I think we would then go back after the heat
of the moment had calmed down, speak again to the family and
again ask them if they required interpreters."
10.30 PC Laverick told me that if she and DS Duffy had had
concerns that the family didn't understand, then they would
have erred on the side of having an interpreter. She had not
met Mrs Sengha before but thought that her English seemed very
good. This shows that the Family Liaison Officers had not only
considered Mr Chhokar's English but had made an assessment of
the other members of the family who were involved.
10.31 PC Laverick was alert to the different levels of language
"I appreciate that people can understand English
for limited purposes only. I felt at that time that Mr Chhokar
was able to understand things well. I was in their shop almost
on a daily basis and had conversations with him - it was not
just shop talk."
10.32 The police arrangement to have the Punjabi-speaking officers
on standby was good practice. The Family Liaison Officers were
also right to offer to make interpreters available; though they
may not have succeeded in making their meaning clear in doing
so. I am, however, critical of the decision to rely on Mrs Sengha
as interpreter. In the first place, the Family Liaison Officers
could not be certain that either Mrs Sengha or Mrs Sanehdeep
Chhokar would be at future meetings. A more general point concerns
the reliance by the police on members of a bereaved family to
interpret: that situation places an extra strain on a person
who is already under stress; what is more, it is possible that
issues might arise which might be inappropriate for a particular
relative to translate (e.g. having a daughter translating questions
for her father on the nature of his son's relationship with
his girlfriend). In some cultures such an approach could be
offensive. As against that, the police have to recognise - as
these officers did - that a family could take offence if an
interpreter is introduced when they do not themselves consider
that they need one; and in the end the family would have to
have the last word about that. Clearly it is a situation calling
for a lot of sensitivity.
Questions raised by the family
10.33 The family raised two questions. The first was that of
racial motivation: Mrs Sengha asked "Was it because
he was black?" I have dealt with this already, in some
detail, in chapter 6 above. I conclude
there that, while the Family Liaison Officers dealt with it
satisfactorily on the spot, and reported it back to the Senior
Investigating Officer, the police then failed to follow it up
with the family, and lasting damage ensued. The Family Liaison
Officers should have returned to the question at a later meeting,
should have enquired into what lay behind it, and should have
given the family eventually an explanation of the police view
of the matter. The fact that they were unable to do any of that
was not their fault, but a fault in the way the police enquiry
itself was conducted.
10.34 The second question which the family raised was that
of cremation. DS Duffy told me -
"I think it may have been the person from London
who introduced the question of cremation. He was wearing a
collar and tie, his hair was cut and he was wearing western
dress. He was talking about cremation/burial. The funeral
arrangements were mentioned by this person in everyone's presence.
He mentioned cremation.
10.35 DS Duffy formed the opinion that all the people in that
house had come up for the funeral and that they were expecting
that the cremation would be held immediately. He continued -
"I told them there would have to be a post mortem
and that if someone else was arrested there may another post
mortem. I said to the family that the body would then be released
for burial only. I said that because in my experience the
PF only ever releases for burial in murder cases. I then started
reading a leaflet which said that the PF may release for cremation
and I explained that to the family. I was surprised by this
leaflet. I knew, however, that cremation would be required
for this particular family. I then told the family to leave
it with me. A comment was then made by the relative from London
that only pigs and Muslims are buried. I reassured the family
that we would look into the cremation question. I did not
guarantee them anything. The impression I got was that they
were a dignified family trying to come to terms with their
10.36 PC Laverick's account is similar -
"Mr Chhokar asked when his son's body would be released
for cremation. In my experience I had never known the PF to
release a murder victim's body for cremation but a leaflet
we had with us said that in certain circumstances the PF would
release a body for cremation.
The family explained to us that they were Sikhs and that
certain arrangements had to be made for the body. The father
was concerned about the fact that the body may be released
for burial and not cremation. Another person there said, 'Only
Muslims and pigs get buried. Our religion does not allow for
10.37 She told me that she and DS Duffy explained that there
would be the possibility of defence post mortems. She said that
the family were concerned at this and that they said something
about timing, though she could not remember what. She went on
"It was obvious to us that the family had a huge
concern, a real anxiety. I was not aware of the cultural background
or the detail of the Sikh religion. They were extremely concerned
and we said that we would liaise with the PF regarding release
of the body when that stage was reached. We offered to assist
them with the registration of the death."
10.38 The question of cremation was critically important to
the family. It caught the Liaison Officers unprepared, as DS
Duffy's account reveals, and it was badly mishandled by the
police in the following week. I shall deal with this in full
in Chapter 12 below.
End of the meeting
10.39 The officers were aware of the need to intrude as little
as possible on the family. DS Duffy explained -
"This first meeting lasted approximately 15 minutes
maximum, but it could have been shorter or longer. I was there
as long as it took. You do not want to outstay your welcome.
You give your name and contact number and tell them that they
can come back to me. That would be no different from any other
cases I have been involved in. The family do not want you
there at that time - they are grieving. They had things
to do. But if it had taken 5 hours, I would have stayed -
there is no time limit on my visit to the family."
PC Laverick told me -
"The conversation tailed off naturally. I was of
the view that the FLO work had got off to a good start - everyone
We left our names and the contact numbers for myself,
DS Duffy, the SIO and his deputy, DI MacIver."
10.40 I have identified concerns and failings with regard to
the way in which the Family Liaison Officers addressed the issues
of interpreters, racial motivation and the family's concerns
about cremation. These were all important issues and should
have been dealt with differently. However, it remains the case
that the family had talked to the Family Liaison Officers, had
seemed to them content with the information with which they
had been provided and had raised questions. The criticisms which
I have set out above are directed at institutional failings
in the police family liaison system as it was at that time,
not at these officers personally.
10.41 The Family Liaison Officers achieved several of the objectives
of the meeting: they offered their condolences to the family,
explained their role, offered assistance, and sought to answer
the questions raised. The evidence is that the visit was a reasonable
basis on which to build a relationship with the family. The
Family Liaison Officers' view that good contact had been established
was supported by the fact that Sanehdeep Chhokar telephoned
the Wishaw Police Office between 1700 hours and 1800 hours that
day and asked for "Lynn". She apologised for being
so distressed that morning. PC Laverick had a brief conversation
with her and told her not to worry and that she and her colleagues
were there to help.
10.42 The offer of assistance made by the Family Liaison Officers
was taken up later by Mrs Manjit Sengha on 12th November
in relation to the release of Surjit's body for cremation (paragraph
12.31) and on many occasions after
the funeral (Chapter 13)
and by Mr Chhokar in the run up to the first trial (paragraph
11. ARREST OF THE SUSPECTS
This Chapter deals with the second, third and fourth police
liaison visits to the Chhokar family. Having established a positive
relationship with the family at the first visit, the police
now visited them each time there was a significant development,
to pass on information about the progress of the case. They
did not at this stage have any news to pass to the family about
cremation, but the family were led to believe that the police
were pursuing the question.
Second Visit by the Family Liaison Officers
11.1 The second visit to the Chhokar family was to the parents'
house at somewhere between 0800 hours and 0900 hours on 6th
November 1998. Again the officers involved were DS Duffy and
PC Laverick who were instructed by DCI Michael to make the visit.
There was, therefore, continuity in police personnel. The family
members present were Mr Chhokar, Mrs Sengha and Mrs Sanehdeep
Chhokar. Surjit and Sanehdeep Chhokar's children were at the
house. PC Laverick got the impression that Sanehdeep had stayed
at the parents' house overnight.
11.2 The purpose of the visit was to tell the family that someone
(Andrew Coulter, but they did not give the family the name)
had been arrested. They told the family that the man was due
to appear in court that afternoon. They explained what this
meant. This was positive news, inasmuch as anything can be in
the circumstances. As DS Duffy said -
"As far as I am concerned I was up there to tell
them good news, that was, the police had arrested someone
11.3 DS Duffy said that the family treated the news with dignity
and thanked him and PC Laverick.
11.4 Since there had been an arrest, there was the likelihood
of a post mortem being done on behalf of the defence and this
was explained to the family.
11.5 The meeting was brief and, although the visit had been
made on instruction from the Senior Investigating Officer, the
Family Liaison Officers understood the necessity that they meet
the family to pass on the news on progress.
PC Laverick: "We were there for ten minutes at the
most. You would not give that kind of information by telephone,
it would be in person. If I had something to tell them it
is good practice to go to their house."
11.6 The Family Liaison Officers did not consider language
to be an issue at this stage. Both recall that the meeting was
in English and that at no point did the family members talk
Punjabi to each other. Mr Chhokar spoke in English and asked
questions of the Family Liaison Officers.
11.7 DS Duffy described the meeting as a "team effort"
by him and PC Laverick. He explained that he had had to fit
it in with other duties in the Incident Room -
"After this short meeting I returned to my job as
officer manager. The first seven days in an enquiry can
be busy and intense, involving long shifts. At that time there
was more going on in my office manager job than in my FLO
Third Visit by the Family Liaison Officers
11.8 The third visit was on Monday 9th November
and was again to the parents' house. As was the case for the
second visit, the Senior Investigating Officer had instructed
DS Duffy and PC Laverick to visit the family. They spoke to
Mr Chhokar, Sanehdeep Chhokar and Mrs Sengha. The purpose was
to tell them that a second man (David Montgomery) had been arrested.
The meeting took the same format as the second meeting. The
family were reminded about the possibility of a defence post
mortem and they may have been told that attempts were being
made to have just one defence post mortem. An interpreter was
not offered at this or the second meeting, the officers having
concluded that the family were not having difficulty understanding
11.9 The Family Liaison Officers remained alert to the changes
in atmosphere and the demeanour of the family between visits.
DS Duffy observed,
"They were very dignified in mourning. ... Everyone
was very dignified. Mr Chhokar was obviously grieving.
... The house was quieter on this third occasion. In my opinion,
the family who had come up had been told to go back until
the funeral arrangements were known."
11.10 He also told me that there was no animosity from the
family towards the police at any time.
11.11 Although the question of cremation remained a concern
for the family, they asked no further questions of the police
at this meeting.
Fourth Visit by the Family Liaison Officers
11.12 The fourth visit, on 10th
November 1998, followed the arrest of Ronnie Coulter and was
to tell the family of that arrest. DS Smith and PC Laverick
saw the same members of the family as DS Duffy and PC Laverick
had seen on the two previous visits. This was DS Smith's first
visit to the family. He had been briefed about the previous
meetings. There is no evidence that the change in personnel
affected the positive relationship which the Family Liaison
Officers had established with the family. The family were still
concerned about cremation. The Family Liaison Officers said
that they were still looking into that and sought to reassure
11.13 DS Smith told the Inquiry -
"I spoke to the father. I told him that a person
had been arrested. We held the conversation in English. He
did not say a lot but he did speak in English. I thought that
he understood me. He was upset and was crying a lot. He kept
asking why it had happened to his son. I think this was a
general question in that he was trying to come to terms with
the fact that his son had been murdered."
11.14 DS Smith understood the family's concern about the funeral
"I was also talking to the family about the possibility
of getting a defence post mortem arranged in order that the
body could be released. At that time I had never experienced
the release of a body for cremation in a murder enquiry. I
explained that to the family and Mr Chhokar was upset.
I said I would take it up or get John Michael to take it up
with the Fiscal. Mr Chhokar was upset and I knew why,
that is, because he wanted his son cremated. I was aware that
cremation was a requirement of their religion. I raised the
question of the funeral arrangements with Mr Chhokar.
I wanted to explain the PF's procedure to him. I told him
that there was a high likelihood that the body would be released
for burial only but I did say that I would take it up with
the PF's office. Mr Chhokar then reminded me (as I already
knew but had forgotten) that due to their religious beliefs,
they would want to wash the body."
11.15 DS Smith clearly appreciated the importance which the
family placed on fulfilling the requirements of their religion
by having Surjit's body cremated. DS Smith, having identified
this as a serious issue, undertook to pursue it and, after his
return to Wishaw Police Office he told his senior officers about
the family's concerns. He was given responsibility for following
this up with the Procurator Fiscal's office.
11.16 At this phase of family liaison the police took the initiative
to visit the family to make sure that they were kept up to date
with significant developments. They explained sensitive issues
such as post mortems and took up the family's concerns about
cremation. They were alert to the family's understandable distress.
The meetings were short and informative and reassurance was
given that the police would assist with the concerns about funeral
arrangements. This was a valuable and constructive period of
work and the officers are to be commended for it.
11.17 However, there was a significant omission. I have noted
in an earlier chapter that witness statements were being taken
by the police, including one - taken on the evening of 5th
November - which reported the `black bastard' comment attributed
to Andrew Coulter. The Family Liaison Officer team failed to
bring that statement into focus with Manjit Sengha's question
`Was it because he was black?'. DS Duffy, to whom her question
had been addressed, was also office manager in the Incident
Room, and all statements would pass through his hands. I accept
that the job did not leave him time to read them all, and therefore
I do not fault him for missing this point. DS Smith was the
statement reader in the Incident Room, and as such would have
seen the statements which contained the `black bastard' comment;
but as family liaison officer he had not been present at the
meeting where Mrs Sengha asked her question. The Senior Investigating
Officer, DCI Michael, was aware of both the witness statement
and Mrs Sengha's question but, as I have shown in chapter 6
above, dismissed them as irrelevant. There was an institutional
failure here, as well as a personal one, in that there was no
provision to ensure that all three family liaison officers were
12. THE QUESTION OF CREMATION
This chapter deals with the period
from Thursday 12th November to Monday 16th
November 1998. It covers two significant events -
· the release of Surjit's body for cremation,
· the release of two of the suspects.
The more significant of these, for this Inquiry, was the release
of the body for cremation, or rather the process leading up
Release of the body for cremation
12.1 The meetings immediately before
this phase had been successful and the Family Liaison Officers
had developed a positive relationship with the family and gained
their trust. There did, however, remain one issue which had
been raised at the first meeting and subsequently but had not
yet been resolved, namely the family's continuing anxiety to
secure release of the body for cremation.
12.2 I have been unable to reconstruct, from the evidence,
the precise sequence of events over this critical period. During
these few days there was a telephone call from Mrs Manjit Sengha
to DI MacIver, there were meetings between DS Smith and PC Laverick
and the family and a possible meeting which DS Smith had with
the family on his own, and there was contact between the police
and the Procurator Fiscal's Office and contact between the Procurator
Fiscal's Office and the defence agents. No notes of meetings
or telephone calls were taken by anyone at the time. The statements
given to me in evidence were taken more than two years after
the events to which they refer. It is almost inevitable, therefore,
that there are some gaps and inconsistencies in recollections,
for instance with regard to the sequence of events and to the
nature of contact between the police and the Procurator Fiscal's
12.3 I have considered the evidence I was given by DS Smith,
PC Laverick, DCI Michael, DI MacIver and ACC Pearson from Strathclyde
Police and Ian McCann and Sharon Lithgow from the Hamilton Procurator
Fiscal's Office. I have also considered the Police Management
Policy Book and the Hamilton Procurator Fiscal's Office's files.
In the following paragraphs I shall
· summarise the evidence and note inconsistencies;
· provide a probable reconstruction of the sequence
· examine critically the handling of the cremation
issue between the police and the Procurator Fiscal's Office;
· describe and comment on the dealings of the
Family Liaison Officers with the family over this issue.
12.4 PC Laverick, who was the only Family Liaison Officer
to have been at all the previous meetings with the family, identified
two meetings which would fall within this period, but she was
unable to give dates for either. She told me that one of the
meetings was when DS Smith and she went to Mr Chhokar's house
to tell the family that two men (David Montgomery and Andrew
Coulter) had been released (13th November). She said
that the family were still concerned about the question of cremation
and that DS Smith explained that the Procurator Fiscal would
only release the body for burial. She said that the Family Liaison
Officers explained to the family that they could contact the
Procurator Fiscal's Office directly through a family lawyer
or even through a member of the temple. Mr Chhokar said that
their family lawyer would do that for them.
12.5 The second meeting mentioned
by PC Laverick was in response to a call from Sanehdeep Chhokar
who asked if PC Laverick could go and see her. She gave no reason
at the time. Since procedure required that two Family Liaison
Officers should be present during visits, DS Smith and she went
to Mr Chhokar's home where Sanehdeep Chhokar asked for the return
of property which had belonged to Surjit. PC Laverick can remember
specifically that she asked for a tool box and some aftershave.
These items were with Elizabeth Bryce.
12.6 PC Laverick said that at this
meeting the family asked that they be allowed to go and wash
Surjit's body. She said that that was her last meeting with
the extended family (her subsequent contact was only with Sanehdeep
Chhokar (see Chapter 13)). If so, it took place after the afternoon
of 13th November.
12.7 In his evidence, DS Smith made no mention of telling
the family about the release of David Montgomery and Andrew
Coulter, nor of Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar's request for personal
effects to be returned. This contrasts with PC Laverick's evidence
that these were the reasons for the meetings. DS Smith did however
refer to following up the question of release of the body with
the Procurator Fiscal's Office. He referred to having spoken
to several "Fiscals" and said that he did not get
helpful responses. He said that at a later point he was telephoned
by the Deaths Unit to say that the body had been released for
burial only, that he explained about the family's wishes, spoke
to a Procurator Fiscal and was told that release for cremation
could not happen. He then went to the family to say that he
had done what he could and that the family should go to their
solicitor or one of the leaders at the temple to see if they
could assist. The earliest this could have happened was the
afternoon of 13th November.
12.8 DI MacIver told me that he received a telephone
call from Mrs Manjit Sengha in the late afternoon or early evening
of Thursday 12th November. When I was taking evidence
for this Inquiry, DI MacIver was on long term sick leave and
his evidence was given in writing in response to a short list
of questions which I sent to him. I did not therefore have the
opportunity to ask him to elaborate on his answers and I therefore
do not know how or why Mrs Sengha was put through to him instead
of one of the Family Liaison Officers. He said that she asked
for the earliest possible release of the body so that it could
be washed and cremated. He told her that he would have enquiries
carried out with the Procurator Fiscal's Office "to
address her requests and concerns of the Chhokar family".
12.9 There are two relevant entries
in the Police Management Policy File on 13th
November, both made by DI MacIver.
The first is timed at 0825 hours and is as follows: under
"Decision", "contact PF McCann re possible
release of body of deceased" and under "Reason",
"family of deceased are of Sikh religion and request
release of body at the earliest opportunity - all defence
agents, Gallagher MacBride and McAfee have verbally agreed
to accept results of the defence PM".
The second entry is timed at 1700 hours and the relevant
extract reads, under "Decision", "body released
by PF for burial only" and under "Reason",
"family informed as they have pressed for release of
body. They are unhappy as deceased is a Sikh and they
do not condone burial".
12.10 Ian McCann was acting
head of the Deaths Unit in the Hamilton Procurator Fiscal's
Office. He was responsible for preparing the report seeking
Crown Counsel's instructions in relation to full committal (referred
to as "the three-day report") and for dealing with
release of the body. He told me that he got a telephone call
from the Crown Office on the morning of 13th November
asking for another report on the question of concert12
by 12 noon that day. He prepared a supplementary report
for Crown Office. The report is on file and is dated 13th
November. In reply to this he received a letter dated 13th
November (which was faxed at 1247 hours) saying that Crown Counsel
instructed that Ronnie Coulter only should be committed on a
murder charge and saying that Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery
should be released in the meantime. Their release could not
therefore be earlier than 1247 hours on Friday 13th
November. Mr McCann told me that 13th November was
a training day for the Procurator Fiscal's Office and that most
people in the office had gone to that.
12.11 Mr McCann told me that after he authorised the body for
release for burial he was told by his administrative colleague
(Sharon Lithgow) that release for cremation was sought. He contacted
the defence agents who had restricted their agreement to burial
and got their agreement to release for cremation. The timescale
for this cannot be absolutely precise, but the time of a fax
from one defence agent and contemporaneous annotation of the
file by Mr McCann show that defence agents' first agreement
to release the body was not given until 1237 hours at the earliest
and that agreement to release for cremation from the agent who
had originally stipulated burial was given by telephone at 1540
Sequence of events
12.12 In order to establish the
most likely sequence of events, I work from the two incidents
on 13th November for which times can be identified:
the authority to release the two suspects and the period between
the Procurator Fiscal's Office telling the police that the body
had been released for burial only and the point at which Mr
McCann had secured the necessary agreement to release the body
for cremation. The former could not have happened until after
1247 hours when the fax from Crown Office arrived (paragraph
12.10). The latter covers the time
between 1237 hours and 1540 hours. (I have assumed that the
times printed on faxes are accurate.)
12.13 Using these times as a basis
for the other events of which I was told I have compiled the
Thursday 12th November
Late afternoon/early evening: telephone call from Mrs Manjit
Sengha to DI MacIver requesting earliest possible release
of the body for washing and cremation.
Friday 13th November
0825 hours: DI MacIver entry in Management Policy File to
contact Mr McCann regarding release of body (reference to
immediacy ("at the earliest opportunity") but no
reference to washing or cremation).
Morning: Mr McCann prepares supplementary three-day report
and sends to Crown Office.
1237 hours: receipt by Procurator Fiscal's Office of fax
from a defence agent giving clearance for body to be released.
1247 hours: Crown Office letter to say that Andrew Coulter
and David Montgomery should be released.
Between 1237 hours and 1540 hours: Sharon Lithgow (Procurator
Fiscal's Office) telephones police to say that body is released
for burial, DS Smith says that cremation needed. Sharon Lithgow
tells Mr McCann that cremation needed.
1540 hours: annotation by Mr McCann showing agreement by
telephone from defence agent to release for cremation.
1700 hours: entry by DI MacIver in police Management Policy
File recording that body had been released for burial only
and that family had been informed.
Weekend 13th - 15th November
Family Liaison Officers inform family that body released
for burial only, and advise them to pursue the issue by other
Monday 16th November
E1 form (releasing body for cremation) issued.
Contacts between police and Procurator Fiscal's Office
12.14 I now turn to the matter of the contacts between the
Family Liaison Officers and the Procurator Fiscal's Office regarding
release of the body for cremation. DS Smith told me that, after
the fourth meeting with the family (paragraph 11.12):
"I made the bosses aware of these concerns [the
need for cremation] and they left it to me to liaise with
the Procurator Fiscal. I spoke to several Fiscals about the
release of the body but I do not remember exactly who I spoke
to on each occasion.
I would describe the PF's approach as unhelpful. I met
with a blunt refusal to deal with the request. I was trying
to broker a deal for the family because at that time the family
would have no direct contact with the Fiscal's office.
When I initially brought it up with someone with from
the PF's office, I was told, 'you know that can't happen'.
I said to them that I understood the normal procedures but
explained the position about the family. Kenny MacIver had
also spoken to the defence solicitors and had encouraged them
to make the necessary arrangements for the defence post mortem
as quickly as possible for the family's sake. The defence
solicitors agreed to have one defence post mortem. The defence
solicitors were very helpful in this regard."
12.15 DCI Michael told me -
"The final decision [about cremation] is that
of the PF. DS Smith was involved in the Incident Room
and he discussed the question of cremation with the family.
DS Smith was to contact the PF on behalf of the family
and I would expect the PF to respond to any such requests
by the family. It is unusual for a family to ask to wash a
relative's body. I have never come across a situation before
where the PF has said that the family cannot wash the body.
I think that is insensitive and in this case was at odds with
the family wishes. I recall there were "protracted calls"
between DS Smith and PF's office regarding release of
the body. I don't think the exact content of these calls would
be noted. It is a matter of trying to sort things out -
that is the priority. I think the family required clarification
as soon as possible. It was not a comfortable situation for
DS Smith. He was concerned about the family and advised
them that they may wish to involve the family solicitor. The
management policy file (which was maintained by DI MacIver)
details that the PF was twice specifically told what the family
wanted regarding release of the body."
12.16 The police were aware that
they could not settle the question regarding release for cremation
until the post mortem(s) had been completed. PC Laverick made
it clear that she and DS Duffy were aware that the question
could not be dealt with in the early stages of the enquiry.
All that could have been achieved before the afternoon of 13th
November was an agreement in principle to seek release of the
body for cremation. However, the quotation above does give a
picture of some activity on DS Smith's part in attempting to
secure release of the body for cremation.
12.17 DS Smith in his evidence to me portrayed the Procurator
Fiscal's Office as negative and unhelpful on this occasion -
"Later someone phoned me from the Deaths Unit at
the PF's office to say that the body was now clear for burial
only. I think this was just an admin person from the office -
I do not think it was a Fiscal. I tried to explain to them
about the family but they advised me to speak directly to
12.18 This was in part confirmed by Mr McCann who told me that
he was told by Sharon Lithgow (the "admin person")
about the need for cremation.
12.19 DS Smith then said, "I later spoke to a PF but
was told that it just could not happen".
12.20 However, he was unable to say to whom he spoke on the
several occasions he telephoned the Procurator Fiscal's Office.
Mr McCann was one of the few people in the office that day,
most of the staff being absent on a training day, and he told
me that he did not discuss this matter with the police, nor
would he normally have expected to - it would have been dealt
with by administrative staff. It is clear from the Management
Policy Book that the police (DI MacIver) knew that Mr McCann
was the contact regarding release of the body.
12.21 The police evidence is also
inconsistent. DCI Michael's evidence (quoted in paragraph 12.15
above) was that "the management policy file (which was
maintained by DI MacIver) details that the PF was twice
specifically told what the family wanted regarding release of
the body". This is not accurate. As can be seen from
the extracts themselves (see paragraph 12.9),
both references are on 13th November, the first refers
to the need to contact Mr McCann (in relation to immediacy not
cremation) and the other records (more than an hour after Mr
McCann knew that cremation would be permitted) that the body
had been released for burial only and that the family had been
12.22 At best therefore the police
criticism of the "Fiscal" is not corroborated by the
evidence. If DS Smith did indeed have unhelpful and misleading
advice from the Procurator Fiscal's Office, there is no record
of it on either side. On the other hand, it is clear from the
Management Policy File entry that morning that the police knew
that Mr McCann was the relevant contact point. Mr McCann said
that he did not discuss this with the police. He was one of
the few people in the Hamilton office not at the training day.
Between 1247 hours and 1540 hours he had authorised the release
of the body for burial, been told that cremation was needed,
and got the defence agent's agreement to that. I find it unlikely
that in that timeframe he would also have told the police that
cremation "could not happen". I am therefore unconvinced
of DS Smith's account of this matter.
12.23 The timetable above shows that from 1540 hours on 13th
November the Procurator Fiscal's Office was able to release
the body for cremation. They would therefore have had no objection
to allowing the relatives to wash the body. However, I do
not have evidence of when the body was released for cremation.
The date of issue of the E1 form is when the undertaker
collects it and not when the Procurator Fiscal gives clearance.
(E1 forms are not retained on file so there is no way to show
when it was signed, though we know that it was issued on Monday
16th November.) Neither Mr McCann nor Mrs Lithgow
was able to confirm to me when notification of release for cremation
was given to the police or to others (e.g. the undertakers).
12.24 Mr McCann told me -
"My recollection is far from perfect at this stage.
I was aware that there was a requirement that there be a cremation.
The information that the body could now be released for cremation
would have been conveyed to the admin. desk. I do not know
whether there was an arrangement that the form was picked
up on 16 November by the undertakers."
12.25 Mrs Lithgow said -
"The Fiscal then releases the body and I would call
the police. I would call them and let them know the result
of the post mortem and would call and fax the mortuary to
let them know if the body was to be released. I would also
call the undertaker. If there was a problem about the release
of a body for cremation I would not be able to deal with this.
I would need to discuss it with a Fiscal."
12.26 The death was registered on Monday 16th November.
12.27 To summarise: the papers show that the question of cremation
was dealt with promptly by the Procurator Fiscal's Office. Police
efforts to get an early decision were uncoordinated, and their
claim that the Procurator Fiscal's Office was unhelpful is not
corroborated by the evidence. On the Procurator Fiscal side
there is no evidence of when notification that the body had
been released for cremation was given to the police or others.
There is no record of further contact with the family or between
the police and the Procurator Fiscal's Office regarding the
fact that the body had been released for cremation. This was
a sorry state of affairs.
Family Liaison Officer contact with the family
12.28 In the following paragraphs I assess the performance
of the police and the Procurator Fiscal's Office in relation
to this matter of cremation, identifying points of good practice
observed and areas where there are lessons to be learned.
12.29 It was only in the course of their first visit to the
family that DS Duffy and PC Laverick became aware that the Procurator
Fiscal could release a body for cremation because of a leaflet
which they had with them to give to the family. The Family Liaison
Officers were, therefore, unprepared for the question. The subject
of funeral rites for Sikhs should have been a topic on which
they were briefed. DC Dyas knew that the family were Sikhs.
The Senior Investigating Officer should, therefore, have ensured
that the Family Liaison Officers were aware of the needs of
Sikhs with regard to the death of a relative and of the Procurator
Fiscal's procedures with regard to release of a body. (I comment
on those procedures below.) It cannot have been reassuring to
the family that the Family Liaison Officers should have so obviously
been unsure about the question of cremation. This was a failure
of preparation. The issue should have been covered at the first
briefing with the Senior Investigating Officer.
12.30 The Family Liaison Officers understood the concerns of
the family, and assured the family that they recognised that
it was an important issue. They could not have given a final
answer until the defence post mortem had been completed and
the defence agents agreed to the body's release. This did not
happen until 13th November and therefore up to that
point, the police could not have given the family a definite
answer regarding whether the body would be released for cremation.
Up to that point, therefore, their procedure was correct.
12.31 In the late afternoon or early
evening of Thursday 12th November, Mrs Sengha telephoned
Wishaw Police Office. She spoke to DI MacIver. She asked for
the earliest possible release of Surjit's body for washing and
cremation. DI MacIver explained to her that the release of the
body was a matter for the Procurator Fiscal. He said that in
some instances after a murder the Procurator Fiscal released
the body for burial only. He assured her that he would have
someone make contact with the Procurator Fiscal's Office to
address her requests and contact the family to tell them the
outcome. He made sure she knew his name and said that she should
contact him should she or others in the family need any assistance.
He then instructed DS Smith and PC Laverick to follow this up.
This was good procedure.
12.32 The entry in the Management Policy File at 0825 hours
the next day (13th November) shows that DI MacIver
refers to a need for earliest possible release but makes no
mention of washing or cremation. That could have been a critical
omission. However, DS Smith and PC Laverick were aware of that
12.33 It is worth noting at this point that DI MacIver told
Mrs Sengha something which had been told to the family previously,
namely that in some murder cases the Procurator Fiscal released
the body for burial only. This was true and it was a sensible
precaution to remind a family member of that. It would, necessarily,
be a matter for DI MacIver's own judgment whether that message,
which had been given to the family before, needed to be reiterated.
There seems to have been a pattern which meant that each time
the family spoke to someone new - DS Duffy at the first meeting,
DS Smith at the fourth and DI MacIver on the telephone - they
were told in one form or another that release of the body for
cremation could not be guaranteed.
12.34 Although that message was correct, it is important to
consider the terms in which the message is couched. For instance,
the way DI MacIver phrased the message made it clear that procedures
might not allow release for cremation, whereas DS Smith had
told the family that he had no experience of it happening, which
did not address the issue of whether it was possible. Briefing
before the meeting would have ensured that he would have been
aware that cremation was possible and that the family were already
aware of that. There was a discontinuity about the approach
to the question of cremation which suggests a lack of proper
briefing before each liaison meeting. Before visiting a bereaved
family, the Family Liaison Officers should be fully aware of
the issues which are of concern to the family at the time. This
is a particular need where Family Liaison Officers are interchanging.
12.35 That brings us to 13th November and the meeting
at which DS Smith told the family that he had done all that
he could on their behalf and suggested that they make other
arrangements to pursue the matter. He would not have been in
the position of giving this advice but for a major failure of
communication between the police and the Procurator Fiscal's
Office. There is evidence that the police could have averted
this if they had used their own records and had contacted Mr
McCann directly. At the same time however there is no record
that the Procurator Fiscal's Office followed its normal practice
and informed the police of the decision to release the body
12.36 No record was made of any
of the calls between DS Smith and the Procurator Fiscal's Office,
nor, from the Procurator Fiscal's Office, of the time at which
the police or undertakers were informed that the body had been
released first for burial and then for cremation.
12.37 This is a catalogue of confusion which tells its own
tale. At the centre of it is DS Smith, who made no record of
his contacts with the Procurator Fiscal's Office, and could
give no clear account of them from recollection. But underlying
that is the almost total unpreparedness of all the police officers
involved for the essential requirements of a Sikh funeral. They
should not have let themselves get into the position where they
had in effect to leave the family in misery - which was actually
quite needless - for an entire weekend. The customs surrounding
death and the disposal of a body vary among different cultures,
but all cultures regard these matters as of the greatest seriousness,
involving as they do literally matters of life and death. It
is the duty of the police, the Procurators Fiscal and indeed
any public authority, to treat them with that degree of seriousness
12.38 I now turn to the other significant matter on which the
Family Liaison Officers had dealings with the Chhokar family
between 12th and 16th November.
The release of Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery
12.39 DS Smith and PC Laverick visited the family with the
purpose of telling them that two men had been released from
custody. They spoke to Mr Chhokar, Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar and
Mrs Sengha. They explained that this did not mean that the two
suspects could not be tried later. The family asked why the
men had been released. The police officers explained that they
did not know and suggested that the family might wish to contact
the Procurator Fiscal. The Family Liaison Officers continued
to treat Mr Chhokar as the leading member of the family and
gave him a contact number in the Procurator Fiscal's Office.
12.40 There are several points to be addressed here. The first
is the effect which the news and how it was handled would have
on the family. When they had visited the family to tell them
that people had been arrested, DS Duffy said that they were
taking the family "good news". It would have been
reasonable, therefore, for the police to assume that the family
would view the release as "bad news" and that the
effect on them could be upsetting or distressing. It would be
highly likely that the family would ask questions about the
12.41 The Family Liaison Officers were clearly poorly briefed
for this visit. They were unable to answer straightforward questions
from the family about the decision. The questions should have
been anticipated before the visit. I have no evidence to show
the level of briefing which they were given before they made
the visit. The evidence from the police is consistent in identifying
the Senior Investigating Officer as the person responsible for
directing Family Liaison Officer contact with the family and
it would be his responsibility to ensure that his officers were
fully prepared for liaison visits.
12.42 The second issue is that the Family Liaison Officers
said that the release did not mean that the two men could not
be tried at a later date. This was correct since it is clear
from the Crown Office papers that proceedings might still be
instituted. However, I do not have any evidence of contact between
the police and the Procurator Fiscal's Office showing that the
police had checked this. If they had not checked and there were
to be no proceedings against the two men, then the picture given
to the family would have been wrong and could well have led
to significant distress and undermined the relationship which
the Family Liaison Officers had established with the family.
12.43 The third point here relates to the treatment of the
question regarding the reasons behind the decision to release.
This was an obvious question to foresee and the Family Liaison
Officers should have been in a position to answer it. The police
should have contacted the Procurator Fiscal's Office to discuss
what the family could be told and how questions might be answered.
That could even have involved saying to the family that the
Procurator Fiscal would be better placed to answer the question
and giving them the contact name and number. It was not enough
to tell the family that they did not know and give them a telephone
number for the Procurator Fiscal. This display of uncertainty
risked damaging the family's confidence, not merely in the Family
Liaison Officers but in the whole criminal justice system.
12.44 When it comes to getting information to a victim's family,
the onus should not be on the family to chase the information,
it should be on the police, with reference to the Procurator
Fiscal as necessary, to ensure that it is given to them.
12.45 There is also a more general point arising from this.
That is the need for co-ordination of effort between the police
and Procurator Fiscal's Office to ensure that the messages being
given to the family are consistent, that the information is
as complete as possible, and that each is aware of the other's
contacts with the next of kin. There is no evidence that there
was any such co-ordination at this point in this case.
1 Until August 2000 section 24 of
the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 provided, among other
things, that all crimes and offences except murder and treason
were bailable. The Bail Judicial Appointments Etc.(Scotland)
Act 2000, section 3 repealed that provision and, accordingly,
it is now competent for a person accused of murder to apply
2 A 'devolution issue' is a question
whether the exercise of a function by a member of the Scottish
Executive (including the Lord Advocate) is incompatible with
the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms. See section 57(2) and Schedule 6 of the Scotland Act
3 The Management Policy Book is a
file maintained by the Senior Investigating Officer during a
police enquiry. Its purpose is to record policy decisions taken
in the course of the enquiry.
4 Home Office Large Major Enquiry
5 I have added a note at the end
of this chapter about the significance of motivation in a criminal
prosecution, and in particular about s.96 of the Crime and Disorder
6 "Surjit's flat was targeted
for robbery within weeks of moving into an all white tower block."
- statement read out at press conference, 28 November 2000
7 CM. 4262 - I
8 (1863) 4 Irv. 301 at p.365
9 Multi Agency Racial Incident Monitoring
10 Home Office Large Major Enquiry
11 Multi-Agency Racial Incident Monitoring