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SP Paper 424

Session 1(2001)



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 the Inquiry.

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.

Documentary evidence

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 kin.

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 in Edinburgh.


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 recognised.


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 Inquiry.

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 to them.

1.28 The Report remains my sole responsibility.


The murder

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 unsuccessful.

Police response

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 with them.

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 set free.

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 Campaign.

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 carried out.

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.

Victim support

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 and welcomed.

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.

Internal reports

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.


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 pathologists.

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:

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 Street.

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 be resolved.

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.


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 November 1998.

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 1998.

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 Privy Council.

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 July 2000.

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 October 2000.

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 November 2000.

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.


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

Initial Actions

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 follows:

"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 Law Hospital.

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 0210 hours.

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 room.

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 November 1998.

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.

block 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 three suspects.

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 constable.

5.25 In her report following the Review of the police enquiry, Detective Superintendent Joyce described the importance of the CCTV evidence:

"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.

Witness statements

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.

November 1998

Number of civilian witness statements taken























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 Room Staff.

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 were detected.


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 Enquiry Team.

1 DS [detective sergeant], 4 DCs [detective constables], 1 DIO (staff) [divisional intelligence officer]

('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 out early.

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 them."

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 the crime.

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 crime.

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.


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 investigation -

· 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] house'."

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 do it.

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 with him."

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 motive.

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 Chhokar.

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 nothing."

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 re-interview."

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."

Background enquiries

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 police.

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 problems.

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 -

DS Duffy

"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'."

PC Laverick

"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 case.

"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 girlfriend etc.

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 incident'-

`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 any individual.

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 monitoring form.

* 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.


This chapter examines critically two actions taken by the police on the morning after the murder, 5th November 1998, namely -

· A telephone call from Chief Superintendent George Burton to Councillor Bob Chadha, at about 0800 hours, and

· 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 family.

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 incident."

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 Ingram. ...

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 quoted above.

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 Council."

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

The Co-Ordinator

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 nature.

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.

Yours sincerely

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 me -

"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 thus -

`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 morning.

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 between them.

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 involved.

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 Strathclyde.

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 press release.

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 the matter.

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 analysis.

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 will do.

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 Office.

· 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 Investigating Officer.


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 death.

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 me -

"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 widow."

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 senior's house."

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 was `lost'.


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 of them.

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 Glasgow."

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 role -

"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 Initiatives'.

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 cry on".

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 case.

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 needs."

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 time.

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 strategy."

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 and appropriate.

· 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)


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 that stage."

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 flat."

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 to."

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." (DS Duffy).

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 were there.

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 interpreter.

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 house -

"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 explained -

"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 ability:

"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 loss."

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 that'".

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 was talking.

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 13.18).


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 for this."

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 job."

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 them.

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 the family.

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 arrangements -

"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 equally briefed.


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, and

· 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 to it.

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 Office.

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 and timing;

· examine critically the handling of the cremation issue between the police and the Procurator Fiscal's Office; and

· describe and comment on the dealings of the Family Liaison Officers with the family over this issue.

The evidence

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 hours.

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 following timetable:

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 means.

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 a Fiscal."

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 informed.

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 need.

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 for cremation.

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 and urgency.

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 decision.

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 for bail.

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 1998.

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 System

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 Act 1998.

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 System

11 Multi-Agency Racial Incident Monitoring Group

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