13. FROM THE POLICE INVESTIGATION
TO THE FIRST TRIAL
This chapter deals with police family liaison between the end
of the police enquiry and the trial of Ronnie Coulter ("the
first trial"), ie from 17th November 1998 to
the beginning of March 1999. In this phase the police dealt
separately with Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar and her children and with
Mr Chhokar and his family since these two distinct parts of
the family had different needs after Surjit's funeral.
Between the End of the Police Enquiry and the First Trial
13.1 The Police Management Policy Book records that the police
enquiry was concluded and the Incident Room closed down on Tuesday
17th November 1998.
13.2 After the funeral, which was held on Wednesday 18th
November, Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar returned to her own home with
her children. The police therefore had two family units to deal
with; the first was in Sanehdeep Chhokar's home and consisted
of her and her (and Surjit's) two children, and the second,
which was centred on Mr Chhokar's home and comprised Mr and
Mrs Chhokar (Surjit's parents).
Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar
13.3 The last meeting which PC Laverick remembered having with
the family at Mr and Mrs Chhokar's house was the one at which
Sanehdeep Chhokar had asked if the police could help her with
the return of Surjit's belongings (paragraph 12.5).
That meeting had been held at Mrs Chhokar's request. Thereafter
PC Laverick's contact was with Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar.
13.4 PC Laverick's evidence to me gives a picture of a strong
trusting relationship being built with Sanehdeep Chhokar and
her children -
"Once Sandy moved back to her own home I had numerous
contacts with her and the two kids. The kids were calling
me "Auntie Lynn". I was getting calls from Sandy
when I was off-duty. She would sometimes go to the office
but wouldn't speak to anyone but me."
13.5 In all, PC Laverick estimated that she had between 20
or 30 contacts with Sanehdeep after the funeral. These were
at Sanehdeep's home, at PC Laverick's office and by telephone.
"I might have had contact with Sandy on 20 or 30
occasions after the funeral. This contact was sometimes once
a week, sometimes twice a week and sometimes more or less
frequently. I met her parents who had come over from India
on one occasion. I also had contact with her over the return
of the keys to the flat at Caplaw Tower [Surjit 's flat]
and over the death certificate."
13.6 PC Laverick referred Sanehdeep
Chhokar to PETAL -
"I also had contact through PETAL. ... Sandy became
withdrawn. There were a few times when Sandy would not get
out of bed to speak to us. The children were answering the
front door. ... I had concern about Sandy and the kids. PETAL
arranged for Sandy to work with them on a part-time basis."
13.7 Kate Duffy of PETAL confirmed this. She told me that PC
Laverick had contacted her because
"She wanted someone to go round and visit Sandy and
the children as she was concerned about their welfare".
13.8 PETAL also contacted PC Laverick to raise a concern about
the behaviour of a defence precognition agent who interviewed
Sanehdeep Chhokar on Wednesday 27th January 1999.
Sanehdeep had been asked questions which she found distressing
and which seemed inappropriate. PC Laverick told me -
"PETAL also contacted me regarding a concern over
the defence precognition. We had explained to the family that
they might be contacted by defence lawyers although I can't
remember exactly when this was explained."
13.9 PC Laverick thought that the agents would only ask Sanehdeep
about identifying the body and so did not warn her that awkward
questions might be asked. There were three precognition agents
(one for each accused). One of them asked questions about Sanehdeep
and Surjit having separated, whether he had ever abused her
and about her sex life. Neither Kate Duffy, who was at the interview,
nor PC Laverick could see the relevance of the questions.
13.10 This is an area in which a bereaved person might look
either to the police or to another organisation for support.
Both PETAL and PC Laverick had considerable experience dealing
with female victims in distressing situations. In this case
it was PETAL who supported Sanehdeep Chhokar before and during
the interview. I comment elsewhere (Chapter 30)
on defence precognition agents.
13.11 PC Laverick explained that as Family Liaison Officer
she would always offer assistance at defence precognition, for
example she would explain the procedures involved and would
offer to be present or offer the use of accommodation at the
13.12 As part of the preparation for the trial, PC Laverick
tried to contact Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar beforehand and went to
"I tried to speak to Sandy prior to the trial and
went to her house. The house was empty and it was obvious
she had moved without telling me. I think it came to a stage
where I had to take a step back. Sandy was in contact with
PETAL. Perhaps I was just a reminder of what happened to her
husband. I was surprised that the house was empty. Sandy had
mentioned to me on a previous occasion that she thought about
moving to Glasgow to live with relatives. I was arranging
lifts for the extended family prior to the trial but I was
told by PETAL that transport for Sandy had been organised."
13.13 PC Laverick continued her Family Liaison Officer contact
until Mrs Chhokar herself decided to discontinue it, as recorded
by PC Laverick in a note for the Senior Investigating Officer
"At about 1230 hours on Monday 26 April, I received
a call from Kate Duffy at PETAL. She initially contacted me
to ensure that the death certificate for Surjit Singh Chhokar
which Sandy Chhokar gave to the police to be handed to the
PF prior to the trial was returned to Sandy and not to the
She also stated that Sandy Chhokar had asked Kate to inform
me that she was more than satisfied with the assistance that
she received from the police at the time of Surjit's murder
and wanted us to know that the problems which are on going
are not instigated by her.
Also apparently Sandy Chhokar has moved ... to live with
an uncle. There is no forwarding address."
13.14 I have a number of comments on this evidence -
· The Family Liaison Officer carried out her proper
function: she put her client, Mrs Chhokar, into contact with
a support organisation (PETAL, in this case) and worked flexibly
with the organisation; she made herself available to the client,
and specifically offered support at the stages of defence precognition
and before the trial. Although she apparently treated the Family
Liaison Officer commitment as open-ended, it was brought to
an end by the client when the client was satisfied and ready
to do so.
· PC Laverick's previous experience as a Family
Liaison Officer and in the Female and Child Unit was specially
relevant and valuable in this case.
· The Senior Investigating Officer appears to have
been content to let PC Laverick deal alone with Mrs Chhokar,
although the policy was that Family Liaison Officers should
always work in pairs. This was less critical at the stage where
the police investigation was complete, but the decision should
also take account of the effect on the Family Liaison Officer
when asked to work alone. Such decisions should always be taken
with care. In this instance I am satisfied that the decision
Mr Darshan Singh Chhokar
13.15 Mr Chhokar was in a different position to that of his
daughter-in-law. After the funeral, Sanehdeep was living with
her children. She had little contact with the rest of Surjit's
family. She had turned to PC Laverick and to PETAL for support.
Mrs Duffy told me "the relationship between Sandy and
Surjit's parents was difficult. I understand that the father
would contact her periodically but this was mostly to lay blame,
for example, if Surjit had been at home with his wife this would
not have happened". Mr Chhokar and his family had each
other and their community.
13.16 Mrs Duffy confirmed this to me, "I spoke to my
colleagues and they had explained to Sandy that there were other
people available to help if, for example, the parents wanted
support. When they went back to see Sandy, she said that the
parents would get support from their own community".
It is, therefore, unsurprising that the level of contact given
by the police differed considerably between the two.
13.17 After the funeral, the police did not have any immediate
reason to initiate any contact with Mr Chhokar. Mr Chhokar was
given contact details so that he could get hold of the police
to raise any concerns or questions which he might have.
13.18 The only recorded contacts
with Mr Chhokar, between the funeral and the trial, appear to
have been two telephone calls from him, both of which were taken
by DC Owen Bradley. DC Bradley had been involved in the investigation,
but was not a Family Liaison Officer. DC Bradley did not refer
or report the calls to the Family Liaison Officers, and since
his account to me is the only record of what took place I shall
quote it in full -
"I can't remember the exact dates of the telephone
calls but it was before the first trial. I think the first
call was about one month before the trial. Mr Chhokar
phoned Wishaw police office. The call was made to the CID.
Any officer present would have picked up the phone. The caller
identified himself and said, "I'm Mr Chhokar, my
son has been murdered". I said to him that I knew who
he was. I have never seen or spoken to Mr Chhokar before
but everyone in Wishaw CID at that time would have known who
Mr Chhokar was.
He asked me about the date of the trial. The citations
could not have been out yet as I and the police did not know
the date of the trial. I asked him for a note of his telephone
number and explained that I would phone the Procurator Fiscal
to find out and would then phone him back.
I then phoned the PF's office to confirm the date. I told
them that Mr Chhokar had been on the phone. I was told
when the sitting was to start. I don't remember who I spoke
I phoned back Mr Chhokar within 5-10 minutes
and explained to him when the sitting started. I explained
that although the sitting was starting on, for example, 2 March,
the trial may not start that day because the court may be
busy. I told him the trial might not start until a later date.
I would say that Mr Chhokar's English was pidgin
English. I did not have a difficulty understanding what he
was trying to tell me. I do not remember having to repeat
myself and he appeared to understand what I was telling him.
The second telephone call was made nearer the time of
the trial. Mr Chhokar again phoned the CID. This time
he asked if he could attend court and sit in. He implied that
he had an interpreter and wanted him to sit in too. I asked
him if he was a witness because if he had been he wouldn't
have been allowed to sit in court until his evidence had been
heard. Mr Chhokar said that he was not a witness but
I told him that I would phone the PF's office to confirm that.
Again I said that I would phone him back.
I phoned the PFs office and was told that Mr Chhokar
was not a witness. I think I spoke to one of the precognition
officers, Ian Main. I explained to the PF's office that Mr Chhokar
was wanting to sit in with an interpreter at the trial and
I was told that that would not be a problem.
I phoned Mr Chhokar back within 5-10 minutes
and explained to him that he could sit in court as he was
not a witness. I asked him if he needed an interpreter and
explained that the police or the PF could provide one. He
said that he had an interpreter. I can't remember if he said
it was a family member. I was asking him and reinforcing that
the police could provide an interpreter in case he was paying
for his own interpreter. He appeared to understand what I
was saying and said that he had an interpreter. I told him
that if he required any further assistance he could contact
the police. I was making it clear that someone could assist
him if required."
13.19 DI MacIver confirmed to me (in his written reply to my
questions) that DC Bradley had reported the conversations with
Mr Chhokar to him; and the matter had rested there. DI MacIver's
statement to me said that there was no need to involve the Family
Liaison Officers with requests that had been dealt with. DCI
Michael also told me -
"I do not think DS Duffy would have to know
the information about Mr Chhokar phoning. Owen Bradley
had dealt with that via the PF. The FLO withdraws until he
is required again for a specific purpose."
13.20 The telephone calls raised two issues -
· whether Mr Chhokar was a witness, and
· his wish to bring an interpreter.
Attendance as a witness
13.21 When I interviewed DC Bradley
in January 2001, he told me (as quoted above) that he asked
the Procurator Fiscal's Office whether Mr Chhokar was a witness
and that he was told that he was not. I do not believe this,
for reasons which I shall state. Mr Chhokar appeared on the
indictment as a witness and therefore could not be excused unless
by the Advocate Depute with the consent of the defence. There
is a statutory presumption that a court will accept the identification
of the victim's body without calling witnesses to that effect.13
However, Crown Counsel may still decide to call a witness to
that effect and the defence may ask that identification be confirmed
in court. In practice, because of the time at which the papers
reach Crown Counsel, such decisions take place very close to,
or on, the day of the trial. When Mr Chhokar called therefore,
no-one would be in a position to say whether he was to be a
witness or not.
13.22 If the Procurator Fiscal's Office had been asked a question
about a particular case, the question would have been referred
to the person responsible for the case or to the administrative
staff. Alan MacDonald was the Procurator Fiscal Depute who was
responsible for precognoscing the case. He can remember no call
from DC Bradley. If the call had gone to a member of the administrative
staff they would have checked the indictment, on which Mr Chhokar
appeared as a witness.
13.23 In the light of this discrepancy between DC Bradley's
account and standard prosecution procedures I sought clarification
from DC Bradley in September 2001. I put it to him then that,
if his question had been phrased along the lines of 'I have
just had someone on the phone, wanting to know about a forthcoming
trial. He says that he's not a witness and was asking whether
he could bring an interpreter to help him', it would simply
be asking for a general principle, namely, can an observer bring
their own interpreter. In that case, the person who took the
call in the Procurator Fiscal's Office would have no need to
look at papers relating to any specific case: they could simply
address the principle and say that that was all right, which
would mean no more than that the person could bring an interpreter.
13.24 However DC Bradley said that he had certainly not phrased
his question in those terms but had asked specifically whether
Mr Chhokar was to be a witness. He said -
"I'm positive it was Ian Main I spoke to. They [the
Procurator Fiscal's Office] asked if Mr Chhokar wanted
an interpreter. I asked Mr Chhokar and he said it was OK -
'I've got my own'."
13.25 Accordingly, I then interviewed Mr Main, a Precognition
Officer in the Hamilton Procurator Fiscal's office. I asked
him how he would respond to a suggestion that a police officer
had spoken to him about the case, about the deceased's father,
whether he was a witness and his need for an interpreter. Mr
Main said -
"No, I have had no dealings with the case whatsoever.
If I had an enquiry then I would have spoken to the person
dealing with the case, Alan MacDonald. The only other person
I know who had dealings with the case is Angela Matthews and
only because she went to the High Court case. I never received
a phone call like that."
13.26 I then put it to Mr Main that it was suggested that the
police officer had called the Hamilton Office, that the officer
was positive it was Mr Main he had spoken to and that Mr Main
had asked whether Mr Chhokar wanted an interpreter. Mr Main
"I have no recollection of that at all. That would
be the sort of thing I would remember. I have been a precognition
officer for fourteen years and I would remember cases where
an interpreter was needed. It would also stand out because
this was not my case.
It was never asserted by me, `Does Mr Chhokar need an
13.27 I then asked him in general what he would do if he was
asked whether an individual was a witness in a case which was
not his own. He told me -
"It would depend on the circumstances. I would try
to speak to the person who had been allocated that case. [If
that precognoscer was not available] I don't think I would
do anything with it, however, unless it was a matter of urgency.
If it was important then I would refer it to the Principal
Depute in the Solemn unit. I could get access to the computer
but only if the statements in the case had been sent in by
email. Otherwise I could try to find the case papers.
I have never seen the case papers in the Chhokar case.
Initially in the precognition process, the precognoscer
decides who should be a witness. If the case had been to Crown
Office and the trial was only weeks away, as has been suggested
to me, then the decision is that of Crown Counsel. Up until
the case is allocated to an Advocate Depute (which can be
days or hours before the trial), then those decisions are
made via the High Court Unit at Crown Office. If someone had
been given a witness citation, then there would have to be
an enquiry by that person as to whether they were necessary
as a witness. There is no way we could go to Crown Office
and say that the person simply didn't want to be a witness.
There would need to be a reason."
13.28 Finally I asked Mr Main whether he had received a phone
call from DC Owen Bradley between January and March 1999 regarding
the Chhokar case and, in particular, about whether Mr Chhokar
was a witness and needed an interpreter. Mr Main said -
"I know Owen Bradley and have spoken to him about
literally hundreds of cases. I did not receive a phone call
from Owen Bradley about this."
13.29 I found Mr Main a clear-minded and candid witness.
Offer of an interpreter
13.30 DC Bradley told me, in his interview in January, that
he "was reinforcing that the police could provide an
interpreter in case he was paying for his own interpreter".
This was not normal police practice. DCI Michael told me that
he thought that it might have been inexperience on Owen Bradley's
part which led him to suggest that the police would provide
an interpreter. ACC Pearson told me -
"We do not normally offer interpreters in those
circumstances. If someone like Mr Chhokar comes on to the
telephone and remarks that he is thinking about getting an
interpreter, I think the reaction of the police officer would
be, 'is he paying for that?'. The police have access to an
interpreting service and could have accessed that for Mr Chhokar.
Where the individual is the deceased's victim's father there
would be humane reasons for the police wanting to do something
to assist. I do not know if that has happened in other cases,
it probably has but I do not know."
13.31 In September I put it to DC Bradley that it was not normal
practice to offer an interpreter, he said -
"I wouldn't have known. I would have thought it was
the police or PF's obligation to provide an interpreter. I
made the assumption that it was."
13.32 DC Bradley's accounts of what he said and did are internally
inconsistent, improbable, and contradicted by other evidence.
I did not find him an honest witness. All that is certain is
that he did take phone calls from Mr Chhokar; and it is probable
that these concerned Mr Chhokar's attendance at court, possibly
as a witness, and the presence of an interpreter. Most significantly,
from the point of view of this Inquiry, we are left without
any clear idea of what was on Mr Chhokar's mind when he made
those calls, and without any idea at all of what information
he got from them.
13.33 In my view this episode represents an almost total failure
in police family liaison. There were Family Liaison Officers
designated, but they were not even told about these calls. DC
Bradley, who had no previous contact with the family, took it
on himself to deal with matters which were outwith his responsibility
and beyond his ken; whilst the Family Liaison Officers, who
had laid the basis of a good relationship with the family, were
left unaware of the significant facts that the family was now
beginning to be concerned about the trial and about having an
interpreter present. Likewise, the officer dealing with the
case in the Procurator Fiscal's Office, Mr MacDonald, was told
none of this.
13.34 My immediate concern at this point is the possible impact
of all of this on Mr Chhokar. Having telephoned the police he
may have been given the impression that he would not be a witness.
He would have expected to go into the public gallery of the
court and to observe the trial about the death of his son, which
in itself would be distressing. However, unknown to him apparently,
there remained the possibility that he might still be called
as a witness. If he felt the need of an interpreter in order
to follow proceedings as an observer he would have had all the
more need of one to deal with the considerably more stressful
position of giving evidence. If he had been required to give
evidence there was a probability that, in the absence of an
official interpreter, he would have been unable to do so. He
was therefore likely to be made to feel embarrassed, distracted,
distressed and humiliated in public.
13.35 Two general points emerge from this episode -
· It demonstrates the need, which emerges at other
points in this narrative, for 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.
· Internal communication within the police team
dealing with a case is also essential, and specifically so as
to ensure that Family Liaison Officers are kept informed of
all matters related to their responsibilities.
The trial of Ronnie Coulter
13.35 There was no police liaison presence at the first trial.
PC Laverick, who was on leave at the time of the trial, knew
that PETAL were supporting Sanehdeep Chhokar. I have no evidence
that the police established whether Mr Chhokar and his family
required any assistance. The telephone calls which Mr Chhokar
had made to DC Bradley showed that he was contemplating attending
the trial, so the police knew that this was a possibility; but
I have no evidence that the Family Liaison Officers or anyone
else in the police followed this up.
13.36 It is of course the case that the trial itself is the
responsibility of the Procurator Fiscal, and therefore it is
likely that police family liaison will have a diminished role,
at most, at this stage. However, I consider that there ought
to be protocols established to determine the link between the
duties of the Procurator Fiscal Service to families and those
of the police, and I so recommend.
13. POLICE FAMILY LIAISON: FINAL
MEETING WITH THE FAMILY
This chapter describes the final meeting between Family Liaison
Officers and the family, shortly after the first trial. The
meeting was difficult for the police and unsatisfactory for
the family; and the police then abandoned any attempt to continue
A meeting at the Chhokars' house
14.1 The trial of Ronnie Coulter ended on 9th March
1999. The comment made at the end of the trial by the judge,
Lord McCluskey (see paragraph 18.17
below), attracted sensational media coverage and put the case,
and with it the Chhokar family, into full public view. As noted
in Chapter 19, the family's own
point of view, articulated mainly by Manjit Sengha, was being
reported in the press from 11th March onwards14.
Comments by Aamer Anwar were also reported from that date. The
family's disappointment and shock were public knowledge from
14.2 Six days after the end of the trial, on 15th
March, DS Duffy was instructed by the Senior Investigating Officer
to telephone the family and arrange a meeting. DS Duffy's understanding
of the purpose of the meeting and his role in it was simply
"to answer any questions they [the family] may
have had regarding the trial." I was told by ACC Pearson
that this was a relatively routine procedure -
"It is not unusual for an FLO to go back to a family
post trial. There is sometimes just a need for an officer
to go round and explain things to the family rather than leaving
them with unanswered questions. There would also be unresolved
issues such as the return of property and productions. Family
liaison can sometimes resolve these questions and there is
also a greater freedom for the FLO at that stage to express
his/her views because the case would no longer be sub judice."
14.3 I assume that the police felt that a meeting was particularly
advisable in this case so as to demonstrate that, notwithstanding
the public criticism of the Crown over the trial, they themselves
had discharged their duty to the family. However, if this was
their purpose in offering a meeting, they were pitifully unprepared
for the meeting itself. DS Duffy gave me a full and vivid account
of it, which I shall quote at length and then comment upon.
He said -
"At about 10am the following day [16th
March] I asked Julie Edwards (an officer at the Female
and Child Unit at Motherwell) to come with me to the meeting
with the Chhokar family. We went to Mr Chhokar's house
and were taken into the living room. Manjit was there along
with another man who I now know to be Mr Aamer Anwar.
I told them the reason that I was there, that is, to answer
any questions they may have had regarding the trial. Mr Anwar
was the one doing all the talking. His whole tack was, 'in
light of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry ...', 'in light of the
Macpherson Report ...', 'why was this not done...'.
I asked him who he represented and he replied the Chhokar
Family Justice Campaign. I told him why I was there but he
said, 'you haven't been here for five months'. He was
asking me questions I could not answer. There were still two people
to come to trial. He then started talking about a meeting
he had had with Lord Hardie and kept going on about the
Macpherson Report and the Lawrence Inquiry.
I said to him that I would take a list of questions he
wanted answered and that a meeting could be arranged with
the SIO. He asked me why I wanted a list of questions and
I explained to him that some of the questions may take a while
Mr Anwar kept going on about race. I kept saying
that race was not an issue.
...I can see what Mr Anwar is doing and I do not
have a problem with it. However, this was totally unexpected
by me. The previous meetings had been amicable but to be suddenly
faced by Mr Anwar in full flight, having a go at me,
was a different situation. I think he was trying to have a
go at the police, the PF, at everybody but I was the first
person he met. The Campaign had only been formed the day before.
I said I would report back to my boss.
... I did not resent him being there. If I had been in
the same position as the Chhokar family, I would have wanted
someone to ask questions for me. But everything I said, he
was not happy with ...
He was saying that I had no contact for five months.
As far as I was aware the family had been dealt with by Lynn
Laverick. I assumed that Mr Chhokar would have contacted
the police if he had required anything.
I went back to the SIO and told him that I had been "ambushed".
No amount of briefing would have prepared me for that. I felt
I had been used. Manjit had originally arranged the meeting
to be held at Bishopbriggs but phoned me back to say that
the meeting would now be in Law. I feel she orchestrated it.
I was disappointed because I felt I had gained the respect
of the family. I saw Mr Anwar as a very angry man with
a set agenda. I felt Mr Chhokar had been dragged along.
Manjit may have been there of her own volition.
I spoke to the SIO and he wanted me to get questions from
Mr Anwar. I phoned Mr Anwar ... later that day.
DI McConnell happened to be there and I asked him to
sit in to listen to what I was saying. I wanted to make sure
that someone knew I wasn't being abusive to Mr Anwar.
DI McConnell did not hear what Mr Anwar was saying.
If DI McConnell had not been there, I would not have
got anyone else. He just happened to be there. I was a little
concerned that Mr Anwar might put words on paper that
I have never said.
The SIO was asking me to find out specifically what questions
Mr Anwar wanted to discuss at the meeting which could
be set up.
The phone call was also based on the whole race issue.
He did not put any specific questions regarding the preparation
of the case or the police involvement in relation to the trial,
apart from the question about why was there not a charge regarding
theft of the cooker. He had a race agenda. He was trying to
push this as a sole agenda.
Manjit never said to me on the phone that there would
be a representative from the campaign there. Indeed, I half
expected Sandy to be there - maybe that was naïve.
Mr Anwar never mentioned Sandy at all. Sandy disassociated
herself with the whole thing. She was happy with the treatment
she had been given. Indeed there is a note on the file of
a telephone call received from PETAL which says that Sandy
had no problem with the police.
It was not an interview at Mr Chhokar's house. It
was a group of people in a room. I would regard it as a meeting
rather than interviewing - a meeting with the Chhokar
Family Justice Campaign. It was never a meeting between the
FLO and the family. If it had been known that the Chhokar
Family Justice Campaign would be there, I would never have
been instructed to go. No dialogue was exchanged between me
and the family."
14.4 DS Duffy accurately saw that this was a meeting with the
Campaign, rather than a liaison meeting with the family; for
it was reported the next day, in the following terms (in the
OFFICERS from Strathclyde Police yesterday met the family
and supporters of the stabbed Sikh waiter Surjit Singh Chhokar
to discuss their worries about the case.
But the meeting at the home of Mr Chhokar's parents
Darshan and Gurav ended within minutes, after Aamer Anwar,
a spokesman for the newly formed Chhokar Family Justice
campaign, asked for more details about why the police investigation
discounted racist motives for the attack.
Last night Mr Anwar said that the family was now hoping
to ask the same question of the CID chief inspector in charge
of the case.
"We asked how the police investigated it and how they
explained it," said Mr Anwar.
"They said that the family didn't raise the question
of racism at the time of the killing.
"We said that it didn't occur to them at 1am when they
had just been told their son was dead.
"The question of racist motivation has arisen in the
light of everything else that has happened over the last few
months, with the Stephen Lawrence case.
"Strathclyde Police has recently publicised its improved
monitoring of racist incidents.
In the light of this case, I feel that is a farce."
14.5 It is little surprise that this meeting went badly, quite
apart from the intervention of the Campaign, since the groundwork
for it had never been laid. The press article pinpointed the
weakness in the police handling of the race question, which
I have dealt with at length in Chapter 6
above. Mr Anwar's attack, as recounted by DS Duffy, though harsh
on the individual officer, and not entirely honest (there had
been no meeting with the Lord Advocate), was not without justification
in respect of the police corporately.
14.6 The police also were completely unaware of the almost
total failure of the Procurator Fiscal's Office to establish
family liaison with the Chhokars, and would have been quite
unable to deal with the questions the family would be likely
to raise, even without Mr Anwar's intervention. I shall show,
in my commentary on the Procurator Fiscal's Office, that one
reason why they failed was that they had no contact with the
police Family Liaison Officers. The conclusion to be drawn is
that the whole system failed in this matter. The remedy is equally
obvious: that there must be a channel of communication established
between police family liaison and Procurator Fiscal, from the
point at which the case is reported to the Procurator Fiscal
and continuing until court proceedings are finished.
14.7 As regards police family liaison in general I have the
following observations -
· The police have to be prepared to encounter
pressure groups and campaigners in the course of family liaison.
DS Duffy was taken by surprise - `ambushed' - by this meeting,
but his response was basically correct. He accepted that a family
has to be taken on its own terms, and if it wishes to be associated
with a pressure group or a campaign that is its right. The police
however are there to listen to the family and to respond to
them, and cannot get drawn into argument with a campaign.
· DS Duffy's response to the situation was appropriate.
He had evidently had some briefing on questions which might
arise - his remark that "there were still two people to
come to trial" is evidence of that. Mr Anwar put other
questions to him for which he did not have an answer - since
they are not recorded I cannot comment on that - and it was
a reasonable response to offer to take them later. DS Duffy
was also prudent to have a colleague sit with him during his
subsequent telephone conversation with Mr Anwar, lest he be
misquoted in the press.
· Although I accept that DS Duffy did right to
withdraw from this meeting as he did, I note that the police
thereafter simply abandoned the attempt to maintain liaison
with the Chhokar family at this point; and I do not accept that
that was good practice. Family liaison should continue until
the end of proceedings, and in this case proceedings were to
run for a further 18 months. Family liaison should have an `exit
strategy': what it is, will depend on the circumstances of each
case, but it is no strategy simply to leave the field.
14.8 Surjit's widow, Sanehdeep,
was not present at the meeting on 16th March. She
had been in regular touch with the other Family Liaison Officer,
PC Laverick. On 26th April, Kate Duffy, PETAL, telephoned
the police on behalf of Sanehdeep to ask that the death certificate
be returned to Sanehdeep rather than to other members of the
family. Kate Duffy said that Sanehdeep had moved and that she
did not want the police to have her new address. She said that
Sanehdeep had asked her to tell PC Laverick that she was more
than satisfied with the assistance which she received from the
police at the time of Surjit's murder and, in a reference to
the public statements being made by Mr Anwar on behalf of the
Chhokar Family Justice Campaign, she dissociated herself from
the criticisms then being made of the police.
14.9 This concludes my examination of police family liaison
in this case. The next nine chapters are a parallel examination
of the dealings of the Procurator Fiscal Service and the Crown
Office with the Chhokar family.
14. INTIMATION OF THE MURDER
TO THE PROCURATOR FISCAL
This chapter describes the involvement of the Hamilton Procurator
Fiscal's Office in the immediate aftermath of the murder. It
does not directly involve the relatives of Surjit Singh Chhokar,
but is essential background to the later dealings of the Procurator
Fiscal Service with them.
At the scene
14.1 In the investigation of any serious crime, and particularly
in a homicide case, the Procurator Fiscal is necessarily involved
from the earliest stage. In a murder case, he has control over
the disposal of the body while he makes enquiries into the death:
and accordingly he (or one of his deputes) is normally summoned
to the scene of crime in order to ensure that a full and proper
investigation is carried out and that evidence is properly identified
and preserved. It is for him to decide whether it is necessary
to leave the body at the scene or to have it removed to a mortuary,
and he will direct and supervise the post mortem. The Procurator
Fiscal's advice and assistance may also be required in making
"out-of-hours" applications to the Sheriff to obtain
search or other warrants.
14.2 As noted above (paragraph 5.11)
Mr Slowey, Procurator Fiscal Depute at Hamilton, who was the
Depute `on call' for urgent out-of-hours business that night,
was notified of the incident at approximately 0030 hours on
5th November 1998 and arrived at the scene at 0120
hours. The detail of his activity is not recorded, but it appears
that he was consulted later in the night (paragraph 5.15)
over the possible requirement for a warrant to seize items from
the home of Andrew Coulter.
The post mortem
14.3 The post mortem on Surjit's body was carried out at approximately
1315 hours on the afternoon of Thursday 5th November.
Mr Ian McCann, Procurator Fiscal Depute, attended in the course
of his normal duties as head of the Deaths Unit at Hamilton
Procurator Fiscal office.
The Sudden Death Report
14.4 The police are required to submit a "Report of a
Sudden Death" to the Procurator Fiscal in respect of all
sudden, suspicious, accidental, unexpected or unexplained deaths
coming to their attention. This includes homicide cases. The
report in such a case will contain the following information
(if known at the time the report is made):
· Date of death
· Deceased's name, address and date of birth
· Details of any spouse, including name, address,
age and occupation
· Details of the next of kin (if not the spouse)
· Time, day, date and place of death
· Registrar's district
· Details of the deceased's father, including name
and occupation and whether alive or dead
· Details of the deceased's mother, including name,
maiden name and occupation and whether alive or dead
· Cause of death (and duration of illness, if appropriate)
· Details of the medical practitioner certifying
· Details of the deceased's G.P.
· Hour, day, date and place of burial/cremation
· Details of the undertaker
· Name and address of employer if the death resulted
during the course of employment.
14.5 The report will provide a summary of the facts including
details of the deceased's background, relationships and medical
history. The report will then give a description of the events
leading to the death as known to the police at that time.
14.6 The report will also contain a list of witnesses which
may include, for example, the next of kin, doctors, any eyewitnesses
to the events leading to the death and the police officer(s)
reporting the death. If the body has been identified it will
also provide the details of those persons who identified the
14.7 The Sudden Death Report on Surjit Singh Chhokar was prepared
by the police on 5th November 1998 and a copy was
given to the pathologists. The police e-mailed a copy of the
report to the Procurator Fiscal's Office and this was received
by that office at 0914 hours on 6th November 1998.
It gives Surjit's address as 24 Garrion Street, Overtown, Wishaw,
identifies Mrs Bryce as a witness, also at that address; but
it also identifies Sanehdeep as the next of kin, gives her address,
notes that there are two children from the marriage, and identifies
Darshan Singh Chhokar as the father of the deceased (without
his address, since the form does not require it). It describes
Surjit's relationship with Mrs Bryce, and his continuing relationship
with his wife, as follows -
"During March 1998 the now deceased separated from his
wife and obtained tenancy of the local council dwellinghouse
at 65 Caplaw Tower, Wishaw. This separation was amicable and
the now deceased returned to visit his wife on a regular basis.
The now deceased had had a long term relationship with the
witness Elizabeth Bryce and of late, the house at 65 Caplaw
Tower, Wishaw, has simply become a postal address... the now
deceased having moved into the house of his girlfriend, Elizabeth
The Case Report
14.8 The "case report" (or "custody case report",
in a case where the accused has been arrested by the police
and is held in custody) is the report which is submitted by
the police to the Procurator Fiscal alleging criminal conduct
on the part of an individual. It details the particulars of
the accused, draft charges, the circumstances giving rise to
the alleged criminality, the evidence against the accused, details
of witnesses and details of any previous convictions or outstanding
criminal cases. In general, the criminal case report, together
with any other information obtained as a result of further enquiries
etc, will form the basis of the Procurator Fiscal's decision
whether to institute criminal proceedings against the suspect.
14.9 A custody case report against the accused Andrew Coulter
was received by the Procurator Fiscal's Office on 6th
November 1998. A further custody case report was received on
9th November in respect of the accused David Montgomery.
This report also requested a Petition Warrant for the arrest
of the accused Ronnie Coulter who had not yet been apprehended.
These custody case reports were submitted on paper, not by e-mail.
14.10 These were all normal routine procedures, which appear
to me to have been in good order and adequate. What is significant
from the family's point of view is that Surjit's wife and father
are both identified - the wife as next of kin - as well as the
fact that there were children, and the relationship with Elizabeth
Bryce is delineated.
15. PROCURATOR FISCAL'S OFFICE:
THE FIRST WEEK
This chapter examines the handling of the murder case by the
Procurator Fiscal's Office in the week following the murder,
up to the point where the decision was reached that Surjit's
body could be released for cremation, on 13th November
1998. (The parallel account of police activity during that period
is at chapters 11
and - especially - 12
Background - organisation of Procurator Fiscal's Office
15.1 In order to make the following narrative clear I shall
need here to explain something of the organisation of the Hamilton
office at the time in question. The account which follows is
not exhaustive, but indicates the functions relevant to this
15.2 The office was divided into four main Units - the Solemn
Unit, the Case Marking Unit, the Summary Proceedings Unit (which
does not concern this Inquiry) and the Deaths Unit, each headed
by a Principal Depute. Procurator Fiscal Deputes rotated between
the units, normally on a quarterly or half-yearly basis.
The Case Marking Unit receives reports from the police
in relation to crimes and decides whether to institute criminal
proceedings, or whether further enquiries have to be conducted,
and instructs these where necessary. The Unit also deals with
enquiries from the police and others.
The Deaths Unit receives reports of sudden, suspicious,
accidental, unexpected and unexplained deaths. The Unit will
make enquiry as to the cause and the circumstances of the
death. Legal staff will decide whether a post mortem is to
be conducted or further enquiry made into the circumstances.
Deputes will consider whether a criminal prosecution is to
be brought in connection with the death or whether a Fatal
Accident Inquiry is to be held. The Unit will also make decisions
regarding release of the deceased's body and whether the release
is for burial or cremation.
At the time of the Chhokar case, the Deaths Unit in Hamilton
consisted of one Procurator Fiscal Depute (who was Acting
Principal Procurator Fiscal Depute) and one member of administrative
The Solemn Unit is responsible for the investigation
and preparation of serious cases passed to it by the Case
Marking Unit. Once an accused has appeared on Petition and
been committed either for further examination or until liberated
in due course of law, the papers will be passed to the Solemn
Unit for precognition. This process involves a full investigation
of the circumstances surrounding the case by obtaining and
examining relevant productions and interviewing witnesses.
Precognition work is carried out both by Procurator Fiscal
Deputes and by non legally qualified Precognition Officers.
Once the investigation is complete, a document containing
all relevant information is prepared by the precognoscer and
sent to Crown Office for the consideration of Crown Counsel.
At the time of the Chhokar case, the Unit was staffed by
a Principal Depute, three Procurator Fiscal Deputes and four
Precognition Officers, one of whom was on maternity leave,
and administrative staff.
15.3 I took evidence about the Hamilton office's involvement
during the week in question from Ian McCann, Procurator Fiscal
Depute in charge of the Deaths Unit. He explained to me that
the business would normally have been dealt with by the Marking
Unit, but that he agreed to take some of it -
"...questions regarding the release of the body would
normally be the responsibility of the Marking Unit or the
person in the Marking Unit who was dealing with the reporting
of the death to Crown Office.
Wendy Barr was dealing with the Summary Unit but was also
substituting in the Case Marking Unit. She approached me and
prevailed upon me to prepare the three-day murder report15
in the Chhokar case. I was asked to do this on 11 November
1998. That was the first time I had seen the police reports.
I also had to get the full witness statements in this case
and they arrived some time on 11 November 1998. The report
was sent off to Crown Office on 12 November 1998. I would
want to see the principal statements in a homicide case prior
to drafting the three-day report. I think there may have been
difficulties in e-mailing the statements and I remember that
they were delivered by hand."
15.4 I have already noted, in chapter 12
above, Mr McCann's involvement in the question of whether Surjit's
body could be released for cremation, which he described as
"On looking at the correspondence file there appears
to be correspondence from the defence solicitors on 13 November
1998. I was dealing with the defence solicitors in relation
to the question of the release of the body and this was a
matter that caused minor difficulty in that one of the agents
authorised release for burial only. I authorised release for
burial initially and I was then contacted by the administrative
member of staff in the Deaths Unit to say that burial was
not satisfactory in this case.
I contacted the defence solicitors and asked whether they
would agree to a release for cremation. I think that it was
force of habit on their part to authorise release for burial
but said that they had no difficulty in releasing the body
for cremation in this case. I then marked on the papers that
the body could be released for cremation."
15.5 Mr McCann told me that the norm had been that in cases
of murder the body was released for burial, but that Chapter 12
of the Book of Regulations which was reissued in May 1998 had
made it simpler to release the body for cremation. Previously,
cases had had to be reported to Crown Counsel for instruction
on that question.
15.6 There was urgent and critically important business to
be done during this week in relation to the murder case itself,
in amongst which the Procurator Fiscal's Office had also to
deal with an urgent family concern, namely the release of Surjit's
body for cremation and not for burial. Mr McCann was the officer
responsible (and the police had a note of the fact though, as
I have shown previously, they overlooked it) and I have no criticism
of the way he discharged his duties. Nevertheless there are
points of procedure which give me concern.
15.7 The office appears to have been taken by surprise by the
fact that Surjit Singh Chhokar was a Sikh (even though the very
fact that he had 'Singh' as a name would indicate a strong likelihood
that he would be a Sikh), and by the Sikh religious objection
to burial. The fact that Surjit was a Sikh was also explicitly
stated in the custody case report of 6 November in respect of
the suspect Andrew Coulter. Mr McCann had access to this report
when he prepared the three-day report for Crown Office. Mr McCann
overlooked this. In my view it is essential that, in the circumstances
where the Procurator Fiscal has to take authority over the disposal
of a body, he should accept the duty (and have the means) of
finding out the religious or cultural requirements of the next
of kin. In a case such as this one, the police Family Liaison
Officer ought to be able to supply the information, but the
point is a more general one, applying to any sudden death. I
recommend that the Crown Office should draw up appropriate guidance
on this subject for the Procurator Fiscal Service.
15.8 I have already expressed strong criticism, in the consideration
of the police family liaison, of the failure of communication
which occurred between the Procurator Fiscal's Office and the
police on the afternoon of Friday 13th November 1998,
which left the Chhokar family under the sad misapprehension
that Surjit's body could not be released for cremation. The
police were, it seems to me, largely to blame for that, but
I do not think the Procurator Fiscal's Office (though not Mr
McCann personally) is exempt from criticism. There is no record
of who the police spoke to in the Procurator Fiscal's Office
that afternoon, nor of who was present in the office to take
the calls; but I note that the procedure for obtaining release
of a body for cremation had only comparatively recently been
eased, and I think it possible that DS Smith may have been put
in touch with a member of staff who was not properly informed
about it. That may have to remain a matter of speculation, since
there are no records of the calls which DS Smith claims to have
made. A more definite cause for concern is that, when the clearance
was given by Mr McCann, there is no record on either side that
it was passed promptly to the police.
16. PROCURATOR FISCAL'S OFFICE:
UP TO THE FIRST TRIAL
This chapter deals with the period during which the case was
being prepared for trial, and the failure of the Procurator
Fiscal Service to establish effective liaison with the family
during that period.
16.1 The case was duly passed to the Solemn Unit, in accordance
with the procedure outlined in the last chapter. The Unit was
headed by Maureen Sinclair, Principal Procurator Fiscal Depute.
Ms Sinclair described her job, and the pressures on her Unit,
as follows -
"My job at that time was to deal with full committal
cases every day. I had to read over the cases where people
had been remanded following committal for further examination.
I would read the statement and assess the case in terms of
sufficiency of evidence. I would also be involved in allocating
precognitions and in reading precognitions prior to them being
sent to Crown Office. I also had management responsibilities.
I think at that time there were four precognition officers
(one of whom was on maternity leave) and three deputes
within the Solemn unit. I was also responsible for the management
of all the solemn courts in Hamilton and for indicting all
solemn cases. I did the occasional sheriff and jury trial
and was also responsible at that time for trying to take a
fraud prosecution to trial.
The Hamilton office was under real pressure at that time,
including the Solemn Unit. There was another murder case to
be allocated. There was a spate of murder cases and a spate
of custody cases. I think there had been a murder in Strathaven
and the Alexander Hall murder case was also being reprecognosced.
I recollect that all the precognition officers had custody
cases to precognosce. I remember thinking to myself, `who
am I going to give the Chhokar murder case to?'
At the time of the Chhokar case we had a lot of inexperienced
Deputes. I was also down by two precognition officers.
You can get periods when you get a lot of custody cases. I
cannot remember how many custody cases we had at that time.
There were a lot of murder cases in the system at that time.
I remember feeling under pressure. The office had lost a lot
of experienced people."
16.2 Ms Sinclair allocated the Chhokar case to Alan MacDonald.
She described her decision, and the process of hand-over as
"I was aware that Alan was relatively new to the
Procurator Fiscal Service.... I was aware that Alan had had
experience as a lawyer previously. Any work I had seen of
Alan's was good. Alan was hardworking and enthusiastic. I
had worked with Alan since September 1998 in the Solemn Unit
but I had generally seen his work throughout the office, for
example, in cases which he had marked.
In allocating the case to Alan, I would give him all the
papers that I had. I would fill out a pre-precognition sheet
which would, for example, instruct administrative staff to
obtain forensic reports etc. At the bottom of this sheet I
would hand write a note about the case.
Given that it was Alan's first murder precognition, I
did speak to him directly about the case.... . I highlighted
to him that the legal issue was concert, that the three-day
report done by Mr McCann would be helpful to him and
I also told him to liaise with the next of kin. I told him
to look at the major incidents book which is kept by the police
in relation to the productions16.
I also told him to come and ask for any help he required.
I cannot recall how often I reviewed progress with Alan.
My practice was to try and go round everybody in the team.
My plan was to do this weekly but I didn't always manage that
because of time pressures. I did ask Alan how he was getting
on and asked if he needed any help. He never indicated to
me that he needed help. Prior to reporting the case to Crown
Office, Alan came through to me to discuss certain legal issues
and we had a lengthy discussion about them then.
This case did not present to me anything which was unusual,
other than the concert issue.
In relation to the instructions I gave to Alan, I consider
that I gave him sufficient instruction. It is only possible
to do the Solemn Principal Depute job if you work at home
as well as in the office. In an ideal world, yes, I would
have liked to have given closer supervision. I think that
may have assisted with liaison with the relatives. It would,
however, have depended on Alan advising me of any difficulties
he was experiencing."
16.3 The responsibility for taking the case forward devolved
on Mr MacDonald at this point. He described to me his career
up to that point -
"I studied at Glasgow University between 1986 and
1990. I did the Diploma in Legal Practice in 1991. I then
undertook my traineeship with a firm in Elgin commencing in
March 1992. It was a mixed practice, but the traineeship concerned
court work, both civil and criminal. My traineeship ran from
March 1992 to March 1994 and I worked with the firm in Elgin
for 1 year after that. I then moved to Glasgow and worked
with Keith Tuck in Possilpark doing mainly civil work (70%
civil - 30% criminal). That was from March 1995 until March
1997. The work consisted mainly of seeing people with complaints,
filling in the legal aid form and noting their defence before
conducting the trial. I joined the Procurator Fiscal Service
16.4 Mr MacDonald's primary task was to prepare the precognition17
for submission to the Crown Office. This was demanding, particularly
considering his inexperience at that time. But his duties were
understood to include family liaison also. Ms Sinclair expressed
it thus -
"In relation to instructions given in murder cases,
... as with a rape case or a child witness case, I stress
the importance of liaison with the relatives as well.
I gave an oral instruction to liaise with the next of
kin and to keep them up to date with what was happening in
the case. I did not identify to Alan MacDonald who the next
of kin were.
I would have identified the father, the wife and Mrs Bryce
as the next of kin for the purposes of family liaison.
For me, `to liaise' means to get in touch as soon as possible
and to keep them up to date with proceedings. To me it is
common sense and good manners. It is automatic to do it. I
accept that it may not be automatic if it is your first murder
case. Now I know that it is important for me to make that
clear to precognoscers. Now I do not leave anything to chance,
indeed, in all murders I have been involved in recently I
have written myself to the family in the initial stages.
I would have chosen Mrs Bryce because she was living
with Mr Chhokar. I would also have chosen the father
and the wife because of the children...
In relation to my instructions about how to liaise, I
cannot recall what I said to Alan. I may have said to him
that he should write a letter.
I did not tell him to invite the family in for a discussion
about the case or the role of the Procurator Fiscal. I do,
however, consider that to be part of family liaison. I think
families should know the role of the Procurator Fiscal. A
lot of people do not know what we do and do not understand
16.5 Mr MacDonald also was aware that he had to establish some
liaison with the family, but he had no specific instructions
on the matter, no experience to draw on, and was hard pressed
with other aspects of the case. He told me -
"I had other duties at the time of the allocation
to me of the Chhokar case. I had other cases to precognosce
which were... sheriff and jury cases. I was seeing witnesses
and preparing precognition material as well as preparing for
trial and working on cross examination and re-examination
of witnesses. I was doing this all at the same time. When
in court, a full day would be from 10am until 4pm but the
hours and amount of time in court can vary.
During the Chhokar case I was getting up at 5 [am]
to do the precognition before attending to my jury sittings....
It would be nice to have more time to prepare for cases but
there is a pressure of work.
I read all the relevant documents including the three-day
report which was drawn to my attention. I didn't really think
particularly about whether the instructions were sufficient.
Neither did I receive any particular instruction about the
Sikh religious aspect of the case. I was instructed merely
to keep the next of kin advised but I don't recall the Sikh
issue being significantly drawn to my attention. I would have
benefited from more extensive instructions if time would have
There was a magnum opus of a shopping list18.
It would be fair to say that a lot of it was cosmetic, as
it didn't relate to the substance of the case and was more
to do with how the precognition was put together.
Prior to conducting this case I had never been to watch
a High Court trial.
When the shopping list letter came back I discussed this
with Maureen Sinclair and although it was dreadful we went
through each bit one by one and dealt with it. I felt terrible
but Maureen was supportive and talked me through it.
There was discussion about liaison with the next of kin
with Maureen Sinclair, but no-one was specifically identified....
I don't recall being told that it was imperative that I wrote
to relatives, but I knew that I had to get in touch with the
next of kin.
The decision about who to contact in this case was entirely
a matter for myself ... At the time I was in possession of
the police custody report, a full statement, lots of witness
statements from the police, and the Sudden Death Report. Information
about the family was contained in the police report and in
the Sudden Death Report. I had a copy of the Sudden Death
Report but I really only had a cursory read of it. I don't
really understand the significance or importance of a Sudden
Death Report in a murder case because you are in possession
of other information. If the case does not concern a murder
then the Sudden Death Report is all the information that you
have to go on.
I am certain that I read the Sudden Death Report but that
the information did not impact upon me. I realise that Mr Chhokar's
estranged wife should have been identified as the next of
kin, but that was not my thought process at the time. The
second page of the Sudden Death Report gives more information
regarding Mrs Bryce and Mr Chhokar's on-off relationship
with his wife. I therefore worked out that the next of kin
should be Mrs Bryce. The conclusion reached at that time
seemed normal to me. I realise that the information contained
in the Sudden Death Report paints a different picture, but
I may have read that and made the decision anyway. I was aware
that Mr Chhokar had a wife, but I decided that the next
of kin should be his co-habitee and his father.
I realise that I made an oversight as far as Mr Chhokar's
widow and children are concerned. ...The fact that there were
children involved should have influenced me. There had been
reference to the children and they had a right to know what
The impression I had was that the relationship between
Mrs Bryce and Mr [Surjit Singh] Chhokar was
long-standing as was the separation between Mr [Surjit
Singh] and Mrs Chhokar.
There is conflicting information in the relevant statement
and papers. It is stated that the witness Bryce had lived
with the deceased for a number of years, but this is now known
to be inaccurate. Neither did the report make it clear that
Mrs Bryce did not speak to Mr Chhokar's relatives.
It would seem that my decision as regards notification of
next of kin was based on some faulty pieces of information
from the reports.
I would agree that looking at the information which I
had before me at the time, the police had provided adequate
information in the Sudden Death Report to indicate the Chhokar's
family situation. Indeed on reading the police report now
it is clear that quite a lot of information regarding the
communication issue is provided. I would still, however, want
more information regarding brothers, sisters and other relatives.
It is always necessary to see how the lines and branches of
the family tree operate so as to understand how the relevant
information will be passed around the family.
When I first received the statement it is hard to say
whether or not I was aware that [police] Family Liaison
Officers were involved in the case.... I don't even think
at the time I knew that Family Liaison Officers were generally
used in sensitive cases..... I am not even sure whether Family
Liaison Officers have been involved in any of the cases that
I have been doing more recently."
16.6 It is plain, from this evidence, that Mr MacDonald had
to hand all the documentary material he needed in order to identify
correctly the individuals whom he should deal with as `family',
but that he drew some wrong conclusions, most conspicuously
in failing to recognise Surjit's widow as next of kin. I am
convinced that he acted in good faith - he was very candid in
the evidence he gave me, and very willing to acknowledge that
he had made mistakes. If he had been able to take more time,
among the many pressures upon him, he would very probably have
correctly identified the people whom he ought to contact as
next of kin. More to the point, if he had had adequate preparatory
training for his job he would have been able to spot the relevant
information quickly in the papers which he had before him: if
he had known what to look for, it would have been the work of
a few minutes to find it.
16.7 Since the consequences were so unfortunate for the family
(as I shall show below) I have to ask whether this error could
have been avoided. In this connection I have looked at
· the standing instructions which would have
· training courses provided, and
· advice which could have been supplied by colleagues,
including the line manager.
16.8 The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Book
of Regulations contains some guidance on the subject of
contacting next of kin at Chapter 12.20 (see Appendix 8). It
states, amongst other things, that -
"In those cases where the Procurator Fiscal decides
that it is necessary to interview a relative, this should
be done as soon as possible. Although it may be necessary
to give priority to cases which are likely to result in a
prosecution, in every case involving a death there is a need
for the minimum of delay ...
The purpose of the interview, apart from any formal content
it may have, will be to explain the Procurator Fiscal's role,
the possible outcomes of his enquiries, and to establish a
point of contact within his office for the relative. It should
be ascertained in the course of the interview whether the
relatives wish to maintain contact with the Procurator Fiscal
about the progress of the case...
It will be a matter for the Procurator Fiscal to decide who
is the most appropriate relative to contact. If a relative
is to be seen for purposes connected with the Procurator Fiscal's
enquiries, that person will usually be the appropriate party
to interview for the purposes referred to above. In other
cases, however, it may not always be easy to decide who should
be asked to attend for interview - for example, where a deceased
had a common law wife as well as blood relatives. Usually,
the person with the most immediate connection with the deceased
will be the most appropriate party to be interviewed, and
this may include a common law wife. In some cases, it may
be necessary to see more than one relative, and to interview
16.9 The last paragraph of this contains sensible advice about
whom to identify as `next of kin', and is probably as much as
can usefully be said in a procedural handbook; but the first
paragraph would not alert the reader to any need for family
liaison as such - it is specifically concerned with cases where
the Procurator Fiscal sees a need for an interview but
gives no clue that there is a need for contact with a family
in any case.
16.10 There is a training course on precognition, but
Mr MacDonald had not taken it at the time when he was handed
this case. Ideally he should of course have had the training
before he started work in the job. It is a fact of life however,
in any busy organisation - not peculiar to the Procurator Fiscal
Service - that such ideals are not always attainable in practice.
16.11 In any event, formal training courses are only one way,
and not always the most effective way, in which individuals
can learn their jobs: on-the-job training, in the form
of advice from colleagues and supervision by managers, is at
least as important an element in training.
16.12 Colleagues could have provided advice. There was
ample experience available, among the other Deputes and among
the Precognition Officers, which could have been tapped, if
anyone had known how much assistance Mr MacDonald needed. I
took evidence on this from one of the Precognition Officers
in the Hamilton office, Angela Matthews. Mrs Matthews was involved
in the Chhokar case for only two days, during the trial of Ronnie
Coulter (the circumstances are described in the next chapter),
but she also told me how she would herself have approached this
case if she had had it for precognition -
"In a murder case, you would also get a copy of the
Sudden Death Report and a copy of the Intimation from the
Registrar. I think it is normal to get a copy of this and
I certainly have always had it. This report gives you details
of the next of kin.
... The first thing I normally do is write to the next
of kin. I would also normally phone the reporting officer
and find out who the family liaison officer was. I would contact
the FLO and ask him who among the family had been nominated
as the liaison person for the Procurator Fiscal's Office ...
The FLO can often tell us who we should liaise with. I have
never found it difficult to find out who I was dealing with
from the police."
16.13 The prime responsibility for ensuring that Mr MacDonald
had the guidance he needed rested with his line manager,
Ms Sinclair. She accepted this, but she was hard pressed with
work herself and decided that she would have to rely on him
to approach her when he saw a problem. This was the critical
decision. Mr MacDonald would report if he found a problem, but
in fact he was so inexperienced at the time that he was himself
unaware of his problems. His mistakes might have been avoided
if he had been supervised more closely.
16.14 I do not believe Ms Sinclair was negligent; but I do
consider that she made a serious misjudgment, in handing the
case to a Depute who was as inexperienced as Mr MacDonald was
at that time, and then leaving him to handle it without supervision.
It was simply not enough to tell him to report to her if he
found any problems: the fact was that he knew so little about
the job that he was inevitably going to run into problems without
knowing it. Other Deputes, more experienced, could help him
when asked, and did. Experienced Precognition Officers could
have helped him, but I was told that they were discouraged from
doing so. These resources were available - the Principal Depute
did not have to take the whole task of supervision on herself.
The basic mistake was to leave him to work alone: somebody -
either Ms Sinclair herself or another experienced member of
staff designated by her - should have worked beside him on this,
his first murder case, at every stage. I entirely accept Ms
Sinclair's account of the pressures on herself and her office
at the time; but if she found that she had not the resources
to do the job properly, it was her responsibility to make the
case to higher management.
16.15 In the light of this I recommend that the Crown
Office and Procurator Fiscal Service should review the management
training given to Principal Procurator Fiscal Deputes.
16.16 There is one other way in which Mr MacDonald could have
been saved from this failure, namely if he had been aware of,
and in touch with, the police Family Liaison Officers in this
case. As I have noted in the chapters dealing with them, they
too missed some of the nuances of the family situation and cannot
escape criticism; but they were at any rate better informed
than the Procurator Fiscal's Office and could have helped avoid
the worst errors.
The effect on the family
16.17 I turn now to examine in detail the dealings of the Procurator
Fiscal's Office with the three individuals most closely affected
- Surjit's girlfriend, Elizabeth Bryce, his widow, Sanehdeep
Chhokar and his father, Darshan Singh Chhokar.
16.18 Mr MacDonald's account of his early actions in regard
to these individuals is summarised in an internal letter sent
on 31st August 1999 to the Crown Agent (marked for
the attention of Susan Burns, Crown Office High Court Unit)
`1. I met with Mrs. Elizabeth Bryce on 14 December 1998.
I had further contact with her before the trial of Ronnie
Coulter on several occasions because she required to be re-precognosced
and also to sign an affidavit for the Section 259 Notice.
I explained to her before the trial that the case was
proceeding only against Ronnie Coulter at that stage. It was
also explained that a final decision had not been taken
against Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery. A final decision
would only be taken at the conclusion of the case against
2. I sent a letter to the deceased's father explaining that
I was precognoscing the case and inviting him to arrange an
appointment with me so that we could discuss the case
in more detail. I never heard from him. A copy of that letter
has not been retained and is unfortunately not stored on computer.
I found out from Mrs. Chhokar before the trial that the deceased's
father was in India. I thought that this explained why he
had not contacted me.
3. I did not write to the deceased's wife Mrs. Sandeep Chhokar
as I viewed the next of kin as the deceased's father and Mrs.
Bryce. From speaking to Mrs. Bryce it appeared that the deceased
had been separated for a long time and had little contact
with his wife. However a few weeks before the trial I was
contacted on her behalf by Mrs. Kate Duffy of PETAL, 29 Clydesdale
Street, Hamilton. She explained that Mrs. Chhokar was upset
and anxious about the forthcoming trial. She also had concerns
about the way in which Mrs. Chhokar had been precognosced
by the defence agents. I had a meeting with Mrs. Chhokar and
Mrs. Duffy a few weeks before the trial. I discussed all aspects
of the case with her. I apologised and expressed my regret
for not having sent her a letter or met with her sooner. I
made it quite clear that she could contact me at any time
if she had any more concerns. At the meeting it was explained
to her that the case was proceeding only against Ronnie Coulter
and that a final decision had not been taken against Andrew
Coulter and David Montgomery. It was further explained that
a final decision would only be taken at the conclusion of
the trial against Ronnie Coulter. Throughout the case, Mrs.
Chhokar has been receiving support and counselling from Mrs.
4. On the morning of Ronnie Coulter's trial I met with Mrs.
Chhokar again to try and reassure her about the forthcoming
trial. I was able to explain at that stage that she did not
need to give evidence. I also briefly met Mr. Chhokar (deceased's
father) for the first time. There was insufficient time to
talk about the case in detail and I only had time to explain
to him that he did not need to give evidence.'
(This was substantially repeated in his letter of 15th
May 2000 to the Deputy Crown Agent which was published as Annex
A in the Crown Office Internal Report)
16.19 I deal now with each in turn.
16.20 Mrs Bryce was a witness to the facts of the murder. Mr
MacDonald would have required to precognosce her as part of
the preparation of the case whether or not she had been bereaved
by Surjit's death. He told me:
"I prepared a letter to send to Mrs Bryce. It
was a general letter of introduction explaining that I was
undertaking the case and giving my contact number in case
she should feel the need to contact me at any time. Due to
the pressure of work I did not manage to send out the letter
to her before she was due to come in to see me in the office."
16.21 Mr MacDonald's first contact with Mrs Bryce was therefore
when she came to be precognosced on 14th December
1998, more than five weeks after Surjit's death. I cannot construe
that meeting as in any sense fulfilling the requirement of liaison:
it came far too late. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal
Service Book of Regulations itself states that any interview
with a relative should be held as soon as possible. This meeting
with Mrs Bryce was driven by the necessity of precognoscing
her, not by her entitlement as a bereaved person. Mr MacDonald
had himself identified (even if incorrectly) Mrs Bryce as `next
of kin', and by that fact should have seen her as not merely
a witness. Even allowing for the pressure of work, which I acknowledge,
the letter which Mr MacDonald says he prepared should have been
sent, and it should have been sent much sooner.
16.22 Mr MacDonald did not at this point keep records (as he
should have done) of his contacts with the bereaved and I do
not know the dates or times or frequency of the further meetings
which he had with Mrs Bryce. But it is plain from his letter
quoted above that these too were driven by his requirements
of her as a witness. It may be that these meetings were used
as opportunities to bring Mrs Bryce up to date about the case;
and I accept that Mr MacDonald explained to Mrs Bryce before
the trial that the case was proceeding only against Ronnie Coulter
at that stage and that a final decision about Andrew Coulter
and David Montgomery would only be taken at the conclusion of
the case against Ronnie Coulter. Nevertheless I have to conclude,
from the dilatory start to his dealings with Mrs Bryce that
Mr MacDonald had not taken on board his responsibility to her
as a person bereaved by the murder.
Mr Darshan Singh Chhokar
16.23 Mr MacDonald's letter of 31st August 1999,
part of which I have quoted above, states that he had sent a
letter to the deceased's father inviting him to arrange an appointment
to discuss the case in more detail; but that no reply was received
(and no copy of the letter is extant).
16.24 I have tried to establish whether a letter was sent and,
if sent, whether it was received. As Mr MacDonald states, there
is no copy of the letter on the file. Mr MacDonald told me that
Mr Aamer Anwar, speaking for Mr Chhokar after the trial, denied
that any letter was ever received. Mr MacDonald said -
"I attended a meeting with the Regional Procurator
Fiscal, Mr Brown, and the Chhokar family, represented
by Mr Aamer Anwar. ... I ... explained to Mr Anwar
that I had sent this letter to Mr Chhokar. I can't recall
what Mr Chhokar's reply was but I know that he didn't
answer me himself. It was Mr Anwar who said that he had
not received a letter."
16.25 I raised this question with Mrs Angiolini, who had looked
into it when she prepared her internal report for the Crown
Office. She told me -
"When I spoke to Alan [MacDonald] he ... assured
me that he had sent the letter to Mr Chhokar. I think
I would have to see Mr Chhokar in order to make a judgment,
for example, did Mr Chhokar have arrangements for receiving
I do not know that Mr Chhokar did not receive the
letter. Mr Chhokar would be the only one who could tell
you whether he did in fact receive the letter."
16.26 I agree with Mrs Angiolini, and would have wanted to
hear from Mr Chhokar before reaching a conclusion. I do not
have the benefit of Mr Chhokar's account of this matter.
16.27 I have also looked in detail into the circumstances in
which a letter such as this might have been sent but no copy
retained on the file. Mr MacDonald told me -
"I am very careless when it comes to throwing things
out... On my desk I had miscellaneous pieces of correspondence
in relation to the Chhokar case and I simply tossed them in
the bin. ...I received no training regarding filing, but as
a Solicitor in private practice my files were always immaculate
and meticulously organised. However, when I joined the Procurator
Fiscal Service I realised that basically things were just
bunged in. That wasn't really down necessarily to a difference
in work pressure, that was just the way that everybody operated.
If you are the only one filing things properly, then what's
the point in doing it. Ideally, of course, copy letters should
be put in correspondence files by administrative staff. I
can't recall everything that was thrown out, but this letter
was not the only thing. ... The only time that I ever felt
under pressure in this case was when I was putting it all
together, as it was a hard copy19
case. Normally things are just obtained from the computer
and alterations can be made before printing items out. In
hard copy cases if alterations need to be made these changes
need to be retyped, so it's always easier on the computer.
Hard copy cases are not the normal way of dealing with these
The system for sending out letters in the office was that
I would write or dictate the letter and send it down to Solemn
typing with an instruction slip - one of the typists would
then type the letter and I would sign it before it was sent
out. Someone in the Solemn typing unit, probably the same
individual, will have typed the letters to Elizabeth Bryce
and Mr Chhokar senior. I don't think anyone really keeps
an eye on correspondence files. Correspondence should generally
be put into such files, but I don't know if it's specifically
my responsibility to do so. A copy should of course be kept
with the correspondence. I would hand the letter down to typing
with the file and would expect that the copy would be put
into the file by the typist. I myself don't maintain correspondence
files, the copying and maintenance of letters is a matter
for the typist. All draft copies will go into the correspondence
file, however, because you are dealing consistently with so
many other things at once sometimes you will be forced to
dictate a letter without the file and so when you get the
letter back it becomes another piece of miscellaneous correspondence
which you then have to attach to the relevant file. I am not
sure that's what others did as well, but that's certainly
what I did. ... I didn't deliberately throw any letters away,
it wouldn't be in my interests to do so."
16.28 Mrs Angiolini told me of her own investigation of this
"[Alan MacDonald] said that he had spoken
to others in the office including Andy Miller.... Alan
claims that he got a style letter from Andy. When I interviewed
Andy Miller he said he remembered speaking to Alan and that
he may have shown him a style of letter which he had used.
Alan MacDonald indicated to me that it was a hard copy
letter. No explanation was given to me as to why the system
had not worked. I elicited from Alan MacDonald that he had
seen the letter and had discarded it and from the Precognition
Officer that such letters were not part of the computer-generated
and stored correspondence system."
16.29 I followed this up with Mr Miller. Mr Miller is now a
Principal Procurator Fiscal Depute in the Appeals Unit at Crown
Office but in 1998 was a Procurator Fiscal Depute in the Hamilton
office. He said -
"To the best of my recollection there was no style
letter relating to those circumstances. I have no recollection
of an office style letter in relation to that situation.
I may have shown Alan a letter from the file in another
case which I had precognosced. Whether I did or not, it is
likely that we discussed the kind of information which should
go into such a letter.
If you dictated a letter you would either leave the tape,
attached to the case papers, in your out tray marked to go
to the typists or you would take it to the typing pool yourself.
You would be given the papers back with a hard copy and a
file copy of the letter. The hard copy was then signed by
the Depute and this would go into the out tray. Generally
speaking, the case papers would come back with the file copy
already in the file. Sometimes the papers would come back
with the principal copy and the file copy together and the
Deputes would personally put the file copy into the file.
There is a variable practice. Sometimes only the letter comes
back and the papers are sent straight by the typists to administrative
staff. A Depute might ask, for example, that the letter comes
back for signature but the papers go to someone else for some
reason. It is possible that you can get the principal copy
back and not a file copy. That would be an oversight and it
16.30 I would sum up this evidence as follows -
· If this had been a `computer' case any letter
would have been stored on the computer
· This was a `hard copy' case, for which there
was an established and effective procedure for putting copies
of letters into the file
· If the letter had been a `style letter', ie
a letter in a stock form, a copy would certainly have been
made and retained
· The letter was not a style letter, but one
composed for the occasion
· It is possible, but beyond certain proof now,
that the copy was misplaced among other ephemeral papers,
and accidentally destroyed with them.
16.31 Whether or not a letter was in fact sent, Mr MacDonald
believes that he sent one; but in any event he did not receive
a reply - and when none came he took no action to follow it
up. He told me -
"When I didn't get a reply from the letter I had
sent to Mr Chhokar senior I didn't think to chase it
up. It just wasn't a consideration, I was too busy getting
on with the case. By the time I was ready to send out the
introduction letters I was nearly ready to start seeing witnesses.
I had between 14 December and Christmas to see witnesses.
I took stuff home to do over Christmas and came back to get
on with things and the consideration that I hadn't heard from
Mr Chhokar senior didn't arise.
Mr [Surjit] Chhokar's widow later explained
to me that her father-in-law had been away to India. This
explained why he had not been in to see me."
16.32 Even allowing for work pressures and inexperience, I
find this deplorable. Mr Chhokar's son had been murdered. The
Procurator Fiscal Service was giving priority to the task of
bringing the suspected culprits to justice, and rightly so.
But it is expected of a public service in this country that
it will have a human face. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal
Service professes to be committed to "be sensitive and
responsive to the needs of the public, including victims, next
of kin and witnesses". It would have been an elementary
step in that direction to have made sure that the victim's father
was aware of who was dealing with the case, what the course
of events was likely to be and how he could keep in touch with
developments. That was simply neglected. Elsewhere in this Report
I consider the question of institutional racism. At this point
we see, not institutional racism - I have already shown that
Mrs Bryce, who is white, was also neglected in her role as a
bereaved person - but institutional insensitivity regardless
16.33 As well as the lack of humanity in considering Mr Chhokar,
there were practical disadvantages to him, flowing from the
failure of the Procurator Fiscal's Office to communicate with
him. If he had been contacted in good time, it would have been
possible for the office to explain to him what his position
was likely to be as a witness, namely that he was liable to
be called, as having identified the body, but would be unlikely
to be called in practice. Furthermore, and crucially, it would
have been possible to assess, and get his own view on, his ability
to deal with correspondence in English, and his possible need
for an interpreter if he were called as a witness in court.
16.34 I would add to this last point that these matters could
have been dealt with more effectively if contact had been established
between the Procurator Fiscal's Office and the police, and specifically
with the police Family Liaison Officers appointed for this case.
Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar
16.35 I have noted above that essential, even it incomplete,
information about Surjit's relationship with his wife was to
be found in the Sudden Death Report; and that Mr MacDonald overlooked
it. He also missed the significance of the fact that they had
children, and misread their ages, which were twelve and three.
In consequence he formed the fundamentally mistaken view, based
on Mrs Bryce's witness statements, that the widow was not to
be treated as next of kin and therefore fell outwith his office's
responsibility for family liaison.
16.36 This error was forced on his attention on 2nd
February 1999, when Mrs Kate Duffy of PETAL telephoned him.
She was calling on behalf of Sanehdeep (`Sandy'), and arrangements
were made for all to meet.
16.37 I have been given accounts of this meeting by both parties.
Mrs Duffy told me -
"I met with Sandy here at our premises. She had got
a telephone call from the PF saying that the trial was due
to start and that she was going to be a witness. She did not
know anything about that. She did not know that she was going
to be a witness and was upset. She asked me to phone the PF's
office to clarify matters. I think she asked me to phone due
to a lack of confidence on her part.
I contacted the PF's office and explained that Sandy had
been distressed about the call and would like to meet with
the Fiscal. I spoke to Mr MacDonald. I had not met Mr MacDonald
before. It was Sandy who told me that Mr MacDonald had
been the person who phoned her.
Sandy and I met with Mr MacDonald later that week.
Sandy was also concerned about the defence precognition.
This meeting with Mr MacDonald was in February 1999.
In this meeting, Sandy asked for contact to be made with her
through me. She asked the PF to contact me. I was happy to
be of support to her but I felt there was more that the PF's
office could have done for her. I felt that we could have
had someone to liaise with her. It is not unusual, however,
for me to be a contact point.
Mr MacDonald did apologise to Sandy for not getting
in touch earlier. He said that he was not aware of the situation.
He did offer that she could contact him at any time in the
I think previously there was a lack of contact prior to
phoning her to say that she was going to be a witness. Sandy
was feeling isolated because no one was keeping her informed.
Her oldest daughter was asking her questions about what was
It is fair to say that there was an element of bridge-building
on Mr MacDonald's part. He was very genuine in his apology."
16.38 Mrs Duffy also explains the concerns about the precognition
which had been taken by the defence -
"We had arranged for Sandy to be precognosced here
at our premises. I was present during the precognition along
with [a PETAL volunteer]. It was a female Precognition
Officer who came and she was asking questions about Sandy
and her husband having separated, had Surjit ever abused Sandy
etc. Sandy was very upset by this. It was obvious to me and
[the volunteer] that she was getting upset during this
We had not warned her that she might be asked these questions.
We told her it would be in regard to the statement she had
given to the police. I could not see what relevance there
was in these questions.
The Precognition Officer said which firm she was from.
I was quite concerned by her manner of questioning. ... [she]
was very direct in her questioning of Sandy. I have never
seen anyone being questioned in that way. She was severe in
her questioning. She did not give the impression that she
was listening to the answers which were coming out.
I do not know what caused that severity towards Sandy.
I do not know if it was because she realised that Sandy was
an Asian woman from a different culture and thought to herself,
`I'm going to get my point across'. I got the feeling that
if Sandy had not been coloured it would not have happened
in that way. It was almost like the Precognition Officer felt
she had to make herself understood.
I have sat in on about 100 precognitions and this
one clearly stands out from the rest. I have never seen anyone
being questioned in that way. I would say that the Precognition
Officer was abrasive."
16.39 Mr MacDonald's account is consistent with this -
"I didn't write a letter to Mr Chhokar's widow
because the gist of what Mrs Bryce had told me gave me
the impression that their separation was final. It may be
false but that was my perception of the relationship between
the 3 of them. I did, however, meet with Mr Chhokar's
widow a few weeks before the trial. I didn't record the specific
date or note anything about it specifically, as at that time
I was no longer being meticulous about noting things. It was,
however, probably some time in February.
I can't now remember when I was contacted by Kate Duffy,
she may know better. I know that I was contacted by her at
some point, and that Angela Matthews may have been involved,
on behalf of Mrs Chhokar. She was anxious about giving
evidence and upset regarding the defence precognition agent
asking her personal details about the deceased. She couldn't
see the relevance of this and was worried about what might
be asked of her in court. I was surprised the defence would
want an interview with her, I was not sure about the merits
of precognoscing her but realise now that it would have been
worth meeting with her. It would have been helpful to both
of us if I had spoken with her. I don't think I would have
been wise enough to warn her of the defence. Although I had
worked as a defence agent I hadn't routinely done so in criminal
cases. I don't really see that there was any relevance in
precognoscing her, she was one of two people who had
identified the body, unless of course they had a particular
agenda to pursue.
At this meeting we discussed the defence precognition
people and their actions and why Mrs Chhokar was upset.
I am not sure if I sent a letter to the defence about this,
I am not really sure what I could have done. I can't recall
whether they had asked her about the sexual habits of her
husband. Mrs Chhokar was a bit upset when I was speaking
to her about this. I can't remember what it was they had asked
her. It was just the nature of it, asking her about Mr Chhokar
and what he was like... By the time I found out that Mrs Chhokar
was anxious about being a witness and being asked questions
about her husband, she had already been questioned by the
defence and the precognition had already been completed. I
realise that it would have been helpful for these things to
have been noted, but it seems slightly academic as I never
expected her to give evidence in the trial. I realise that
she may have been called as a defence witness, but that could
only have been regarding the deceased's character. I realise
now that if I had met with Mrs Chhokar I may well have
been able to identify these potential problems. But my job
was to prove the murder, and I couldn't take statements from
everyone. She only identified the body."
16.40 This meeting took place on 12th February.
It was clearly constructive and did much to repair the damage
caused by the initial failure to identify Sanehdeep as next
of kin. However, Mrs Duffy's evidence suggests that even after
that meeting Mr MacDonald failed to register critical information
about relationships within the Chhokar family, with the result
that he mistakenly assumed that information would be shared
within the family. His own account appears in his letter of
15th May 2000 to the Crown Agent, which states -
"Following on from that meeting, I assumed that the
information given to Mrs Chhokar would then be passed
to the deceased's parents. I had no information to indicate
anything to the contrary. Only at a later date did I discover
that the deceased's parents had effectively cut themselves
from Mrs Chhokar and that there was no contact between
them at all."
16.41 Mrs Duffy however contradicts this. When I referred her
to this passage, she said -
"That statement is wrong. Sandy Chhokar did say that
she had no contact with the deceased's parents at the first
meeting we had with Mr MacDonald in February 1999.
I remember vividly what Sandy said to Mr MacDonald. At
this first meeting Sandy did tell Mr MacDonald that the
deceased's parents did not even speak to their grandchildren.
Sandy was not part of the Chhokar family. There was never
any other member of the family present at home visits etc,
only Sandy and the children. If other elements of the family
had approached us seeking help we would have got another two
volunteers to help them.
Sandy explained to Mr MacDonald her reasons for coming
to see him and she also wanted to explain the situation in
the family. She told Mr MacDonald that she had her own
house, that Surjit had a girlfriend who he had been with for
approximately 5 years. She told Mr MacDonald that
she had a child of 3 years by Surjit and that their eldest
child was 12 years old. She further explained to Mr MacDonald
that Surjit's parents did not talk to her. Sandy loved her
husband and was hoping for a reconciliation.
Sandy wanted to make Mr MacDonald aware that any
communication he had with anyone else in the family was not
being passed to her. She made it clear to the PF that she
wanted to be kept informed of developments.
Sandy told me that she had last seen Surjit a number of
weeks before his death. I had been told that he had been staying
between his flat in Gowkthrapple and his girlfriend's flat.
Immediately after the murder, I was aware that Sandy had
been in the family house. She had gone with Surjit's father
to identify the body. I do not know if she was staying at
The relationship between Sandy and Surjit's parents was
16.42 After she had given this evidence to me, Mrs Duffy checked
the point again with Sanehdeep and told me -
"I have spoken to Sandy after we met on 31 January
2001. I asked her what was said at the first meeting and she
said that the breakdown in the relationship between her and
the deceased's parents was discussed at the first meeting.
She said she knew this because that is why we went to the
16.43 Mr MacDonald's recollection is that this was not raised
until 5th July 1999, well after the first trial,
when he received a telephone call from Mrs Duffy. That call
followed Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar's elder child finding out from
the television that David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter were
to be prosecuted. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal's Office
had been relying on the assumption that information being passed
to Mr and Mrs Chhokar would be passed to Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar.
The telephone call covered several issues. I have a copy of
the manuscript note which Mr MacDonald made during the call
which in part reads "the family - animosity between in-laws
and Sanehdeep. They blame Sanehdeep." On 9th
July, Mr MacDonald wrote to the Deputy Crown Agent, Frank Crowe,
and told him of the level of estrangement. He also wrote to
Mrs Chhokar and Mrs Duffy expressing his regret for what had
happened and undertaking to contact Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar directly
regarding any future developments.
16.44 I have sought to identify precisely when Mr MacDonald
was first told about the family dynamics; at the meeting of
12th February or during telephone call of 5th
July. Mr MacDonald's letter of 9th July to the Deputy
Crown Agent, informing him of the family split, would in part
support the suggestion that the Crown Office and Procurator
Fiscal's Service had until then been unaware of the family circumstances.
Against this must be set Mrs Duffy's statement that it was discussed
at the first meeting and the recollection of Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar,
the person most affected by all of this. At this distance and
with the evidence available to me, I am unable to establish
the precise sequence of events. What is clear is that one of
the consequences of the lack of communication was that significant
distress was caused Sanehdeep and to her elder child (see paragraph
17. THE FIRST TRIAL
This chapter deals with liaison with the Chhokar family at
the trial of Ronnie Coulter. It examines the reasons for failure
in liaison and discusses the roles of the police, the Procurator
Fiscal and the Advocate Depute.
The significance of the trial
17.1 For the victim of a crime, the trial is a focal point:
it is the point at which they look to see justice done. Homicide
however is unique, in that the victim - the person against whom
the crime was committed - is dead. For all practical purposes
then the victims are the next of kin. They are sometimes described,
aptly, as 'co-victims'. The experience was succinctly described
to me by PETAL. PETAL is a self-help organisation dedicated
to the support of people who have lost a loved one through murder;
and most of its volunteer members have themselves had that experience.
They therefore speak with authority on the subject. Their representatives
whom I met, Paul Lockley and Kate Duffy, told me -
"There are three stages to the process -
trauma, court and grief. The murder of a family member is
your worst nightmare. It is the worst thing that could happen
to a family. It is the suddenness and unfairness of it all.
The family is not prepared for it. It is also out of sequence
for many people, that is, they expect to die before their
children. It puts the whole of their life upside down. All
familiar landmarks in their life have gone. They become almost
a non-person. You become the mother of the victim, the husband
of the victim etc.
You may have to identify the body. You may also be precognosced.
You then have to go to court and listen to the evidence. You
are re-traumatised again and again."
17.2 The PETAL representatives explained to me the expectations
with which relatives go to court -
"People think that they are going into court to have
their say and tell everybody what happened. But that does
not happen. They do not even get to say what they want to
say as they are restricted in what they say. The whole process
becomes very complicated. ...In the middle of it all is the
death of a loved one but that seems to be forgotten. The whole
thing is about the accused.
People think they go to court to get the truth but they
don't get that. They do not even see an adversarial system.
They see people who are quite friendly with one another. People
also have their own expectations from television. The kind
of atmosphere in the court does not seem adversarial. There
is a suspicion about deals being done and it is difficult
for families to understand. This undermines the confidence
families have in the system. ...The overall impact on a family
is devastating ... the Advocate Depute should speak to the
family and explain what is going to happen. Families see the
accused's lawyer going back and forth to speak to the accused.
If the PF Depute was coming every day it would be better but
... even if the Advocate Depute was to meet with the family
at the beginning to introduce him or herself and to make themselves
known to the family. This would humanise the process as there
would be some sort of contact with the family. Otherwise it
just seems to be mythical people playing roles in court."
17.3 I shall return to some of these points below.
The family: getting to court
17.4 The trial of Ronnie Coulter began on Tuesday 2nd
March 1999, before Lord McCluskey, and ended the following Tuesday,
17.5 Previous chapters have recorded that Surjit's father,
Darshan Singh Chhokar, had enquired of the police about the
date of trial, and about interpreters, and that the Procurator
Fiscal's Office had failed to establish a liaison contact with
him. He was liable to be called as a witness (having identified
the body), and presumably received his citation at some time
after 28th January, but it seems likely that he arrived
at court assuming that he was not to be called as a witness,
whereas that could not have been guaranteed until the morning
when the trial was due to start. If he had been called as a
witness he would have had to manage without the aid of an interpreter,
since no provision had been made, nor had any consideration
been given by the Crown to the question whether he would need
one. At any rate, he did arrive, along with his wife and other
family members. The police had not contacted him to see whether
he would need transport to the court; so he had to make his
own way there.
17.6 I have also recorded above the contacts between the Procurator
Fiscal and the widow, Sanehdeep. She had been called by telephone
to be told she would be a witness; was distressed by that; and
had sought the assistance of PETAL, which arranged a meeting
with Alan MacDonald, the Procurator Fiscal Depute responsible.
The police Family Liaison Officer, PC Laverick had tried to
contact her before the trial, but Sanehdeep had moved house
and had indicated that she wanted future contact to be through
PETAL. The police were ready to provide transport, but were
told that PETAL would arrange it. Sanehdeep arrived at the trial
knowing that she might be called as a witness, and was anxious
17.7 Sanehdeep Chhokar knew before the trial that there would
be only one accused standing in the dock, since she had been
told that at her meeting with Alan MacDonald. Surjit's parents
also had been told by the police in the early stages of the
investigation that two of the three men arrested had been set
free, but were given no explanation of that at any time. I have
found no record that Mr and Mrs Chhokar were given any further
information on the matter before the trial; and the press reports
suggest that they were not. Mrs Sengha is quoted in The Scotsman
of 11th March 1999 as saying -
"We expected three men to go on trial. When we arrived
at the High Court and saw just one man on trial we were very
confused. We have never been given any explanation why this
During the trial
17.8 Mr MacDonald attended the trial on the first day (Tuesday
2nd March 1999). He had work on another murder precognition
to do at the Hamilton office and therefore he had less time
than he might have done to do any necessary work for the Advocate
Depute, Frances McMenamin QC. Before the trial started, Miss
McMenamin got agreement from the defence that Mr Chhokar and
Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar would not need to give evidence. Mrs Duffy
told me -
"On the morning of the trial Sandy and I met with
Mr MacDonald in a side witness room. He said that he
hoped she would not be called as a witness. He then came back
and said that she did not have to give evidence. She was very
relieved that she did not have to give evidence. She even
used the word 'relieved' herself. She was emotional."
17.9 Mr MacDonald also met Mr Chhokar, who was with a male
relative, and told him that he did not need to give evidence.
The meeting was simply an encounter in a corridor. Mr MacDonald
was clearly very busy at the time. He told me -
"I had to deal with availability of witnesses etc.
I was just trying to sort out the problems so that the trial
could start. I didn't have time to spend more time with the
Chhokars. When I met Mr Chhokar senior I shook his hand.
I spoke in English, but I don't know if he understood. I just
told him that he didn't need to give evidence. I didn't really
stop to check whether or not he understood. I was very busy
and I know that it's bad, but I had so much to sort out. The
most pressing thing was just to get the case started."
17.10 The following day, Wednesday 3rd March Mr
MacDonald was called out to deal with a murder at 0500 hours.
Because he was tied up with that, he contacted his office and
arranged for a Precognition Officer from the Hamilton office,
Angela Matthews, who had had no previous involvement with the
case, to go to court in his place. He had no further contact
with members of the Chhokar family during the trial, and in
fact was absent from it entirely after the first day.
17.11 The Precognition Officer attended on the second and third
days but not beyond. She told me -
"On Wednesday, I came into the office at 8am. The
first person who mentioned the case to me was Pat Andrew,
my Higher Precognition Officer. The conversation was along
the lines of, `Alan can't make it to the Chhokar case, he
was called out to a murder during the night, can you cover
the Chhokar case?' I went straight from the office to the
When I got there, I was told that the next of kin were
already sitting in court. ...I did not speak to the family.
I did see them in court. I was to assist the Advocate Depute.
I was not given any instructions at all regarding the next
of kin. That did not surprise me. If a next of kin is looking
for anyone from the Procurator Fiscal's Office, then they
could ask any police officer and they would know that it was
me. ...I assumed that liaison would have been done in the
17.12 The Advocate Depute, Miss McMenamin, had only passing
and accidental contact with members of the family (I comment
on this below); and her Assistant (the `Crown Junior') Mary
Frances Ralston, Advocate, had none. Likewise Ruth Anderson
QC, who stood in as Advocate Depute on the last day of the trial,
had no contact with the family.
The end of the trial
17.13 On Monday 8th March, Miss McMenamin was made
aware that she would be taking a case in Paisley on Tuesday
9th March. She would not therefore be in court for
the last day of the trial. She has told me of the circumstances
and how she explained the situation to the court -
"On the Monday morning before I went in to speak
to the jury, I got information that I was going to have to
go to Paisley on the Tuesday ... morning in relation to a
case I had been involved with in Paisley in the previous December.
... Ruth Anderson was in the Paisley sitting.
By the Monday, having spoken to the jury in the Chhokar
case, my input to the case in any material sense would have
been at an end, therefore, technically another Advocate Depute
can sit in for the verdict. That has happened in the past
and I have sat in on other people's cases.
I was very conscious, as I always am, of my responsibility
to stay in court for the defence speech, especially in a murder
case. I think it is very important for the public perception
and for the perception of the family that you are seen still
to be interested in the case.
I explained to the clerk ...and asked him to explain to
the judge, that I required to attend Paisley on the Tuesday
morning. I also made it clear to the jury at the end of my
speech that I was not going to be there on the Tuesday. I
did not want them thinking that I just did not turn up. I
explained the matter to them as a matter of courtesy because
I am very conscious of the public perception. ...Everybody
knew, therefore, that I would not be there on the Tuesday.
17.14 Miss McMenamin explained to me how she handed over to
Ruth Anderson QC on the Thursday afternoon -
"The court finished at approximately 3.30/3.45 and
I thereafter presented another case to the court in which
the accused was pleading guilty. That case probably took about
20 or 30 minutes and I was therefore finished at approximately
When that case was finished there was no-one left in the
court. I then went out the side door as the back door to the
court had been locked. Colin Armstrong [Clerk of Court]
came out with me and as we were coming down the corridor I
saw Ruth Anderson who was carrying my papers for Paisley.
She handed the papers to me and Colin and I brought her up
to speed with the stage we were at in the Chhokar case.
I told Ruth Anderson that it was a murder trial and that
I had left all my papers in court. I told her that the judge
had not completed his charge and still had quite a considerable
way to go with that. ...I did not leave my own notebooks with
my speech etc in it as the Crown Junior would have her notes
of the trial. I do not think I told Ruth Anderson anything
about the circumstances of the case but I had left all the
papers in court."
17.15 Miss Anderson told me of her part in the trial -
"I was in court first thing in the morning when the
judge finished his charge and I thereafter did two other cases
and then I was in court again when the jury came back with
17.16 She told me further that nobody mentioned to her that
members of the deceased's family were in court. Her understanding
was that there would be liaison with the Procurator Fiscal Service
and the police who would be the first point of contact with
the family, but that it should not be any part of the Advocate
Depute's role to engage with the family. However, she also said
"I would never refuse to speak to members of a family
if that request was made to me through the appropriate channels."
17.17 The jury returned a verdict
of guilty to a reduced charge of assault. Miss Anderson did
not move for sentence and the accused was therefore free to
go. At this point Lord McCluskey addressed remarks to the jury.
I have been provided with a transcript of what he said.
"Ronnie Coulter, for reasons that are entirely incomprehensible
to me, the Crown has chosen not to move for sentence ...the
Crown chose to put you alone in the dock. In the light of
the Crown's decision not to ask me to impose a sentence, I
have no power to impose a sentence. You are, therefore, discharged
from further attendance at this Court.
Ladies and gentlemen, a young man was murdered in a public
street by one or more of persons whose identities have been
freely discussed in this case. For reasons that I cannot begin
to understand, one, and only one, of those persons was placed
in the dock and charged with the crime. That is a matter which,
to me, as a judge of considerable experience, passes my understanding
altogether. I cannot begin to understand how it happened and
I shall be taking steps to see if I can discover what the
reason was for the course that was taken. Unfortunately I
know no more than you do about that particular background.
The Crown chose not to move for sentence, and no doubt that
was because the accused, having been found guilty of what
was a simple assault, and because he had already spent some
3½ months or thereby in prison, it would be excessive,
in the Crown's view, to move for sentence. Whether that was
a right decision or not is not a matter for me to comment
any further upon.
In the meantime, I have to discharge you from further service,
you're free to leave".
17.18 Miss Anderson was present during Lord McCluskey's comments,
and left immediately afterwards to telephone the Crown Office
about them. She had no contact with the family.
17.19 The above narrative can be summarised very briefly. The
family of the murdered man attended the trial, which lasted
six days, and beyond fleeting and hasty contacts on the first
morning, when they were informed that they would not be called
as witnesses (and could therefore watch the trial), and a brief
greeting when the Advocate Depute happened to pass them (see
paragraph 18.38 below), had no contact
with the authorities and no explanation of what was going on.
When the trial closed, with a guilty verdict on a reduced charge,
no sentence passed, and the accused set free, there was nobody
- apart from the judge in his public remarks - to give them
any explanation of what had taken place or what, if anything,
might happen next. Self-evidently, this is utterly unsatisfactory.
17.20 What should have happened? I shall comment on each party
in turn - the police, the Procurator Fiscal, the Advocate Depute
- and finally on what the judge said.
17.21 The police are not responsible for the trial, and their
Family Liaison Officer role is almost entirely reactive - to
provide new information when there is information to give, but
otherwise simply to respond to requests and enquiries from the
family. I have examined in earlier chapters some shortcomings
in liaison between the police and the Procurator Fiscal, particularly
over the question of an interpreter, but when the day of the
trial comes, the work of the Family Liaison Officer would normally
be virtually complete.
17.22 Only two aspects of police work in relation to the trial
were mentioned to me in evidence: provision of transport
to court for the family, and familiarisation visits
to court for them; and I shall deal with them briefly here.
17.23 PC Laverick was instructed by DCI Michael to contact
the Chhokar family to arrange transport and discuss any concerns.
DCI Michael explained to me -
"I see transport as a PF/Crown Office issue. I recognise
that the police have been doing it on an ad hoc basis for
years. This is due to the goodwill of police officers where,
for example, the witnesses have no car or are in financial
difficulties. It is also important to know when a trial is
going ahead. We do not always get a lot of notice of that
and therefore there is not a lot of time to organise things
like transport for the family."
17.24 PC Laverick was also instructed by the Senior Investigating
Officer to treat Sanehdeep as the primary focus for family liaison
since she was the next of kin. PC Laverick in turn established
that PETAL had made transport arrangements for her. I have no
evidence that transport arrangements were made by the police
for the extended family, who by this stage appeared largely
to have dropped their contact with the police.
17.25 Court visits for the next of kin can assist in understanding
the procedures and make the environment less alienating. PC
Laverick explained that she did not need to arrange a court
visit for Sanehdeep Chhokar -
"Court visits would have been done by PETAL. If PETAL
hadn't been involved, however, I would have done that for
Sandy. I have done visits for children in the past. I knew
that PETAL had taken Sandy on a court visit prior to the trial."
17.26 She went on to say -
"There was nothing to stop me explaining to the family
about the court process. There were no cultural differences
which would prevent me from doing this. I may have done it
in the Chhokar case but I don't remember. With hindsight,
I would do that now. I would want the family to be familiar
with the court. It is all part of customer care."
17.27 PETAL also explained to me their approach to court visits
"If there is a trial pending, we would organise a
pre-court visit by contacting the court social worker and
thereafter showing them around court. We try to take them
into the court that the trial is likely to be in. We show
them where the witness box is, where the jury sits, where
the Crown and Defence lawyers and the judge will sit. We make
them aware that there will be productions sitting on the table.
If they are being called as a witness we will try and reassure
them that at any time they need a break, a drink etc that
they should let the judge or court usher know. It would also
depend on what the witness is being called to speak to, for
example, identification of the body or witnessing the murder
17.28 No court visit was offered to or requested by the other
members of the family.
The Procurator Fiscal
17.29 At the beginning of this chapter I quoted some comments
given to me by PETAL about what a family attending a trial such
as this is likely to expect to see and do - `to have
their say and tell everybody what happened ... to get the truth
... an adversarial system ... but they don't get that ...They
see people who are quite friendly with one another'
17.30 Some of these expectations
will be unrealistic: the prosecution is conducted in the public
interest, which will not always and necessarily coincide with
the private interest of the bereaved family; the accused too
has a right to a fair trial; and the lawyers need to be on good
professional terms so that they can do necessary business together,
for example in agreeing not to call family witnesses. Nigel
Emslie, QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, giving evidence
to me, put it thus -
"The Advocate ... has a professional duty of courtesy
and respect towards colleagues and other officers of the court.
The Crown has a duty to be independent, dispassionate and
open, and to share information with the defence. This may
sometimes involve direct personal contacts in open court ...
In the name of the Crown he represents the interests of the
community at large. He does not act on behalf of a live victim,
or on behalf of the friends or family of a deceased in a fatal
17.31 The whole process of a trial, to anyone who has not seen
it before, can be difficult to follow, or even unintelligible.
The interests of justice are not served if the family of a murder
victim cannot perceive justice being done; and common humanity
demands that they be given some clue to the riddle. The person
best able to explain what is going on is the person from the
Procurator Fiscal's Office who has had responsibility for precognoscing
the case. Liaison with families takes time, and therefore carries
costs, and these are not to be brushed aside; but the fact is
that the Procurator Fiscal Service is the best source for information
17.32 I note at this point that the Crown Office and Procurator
Fiscal Service have now addressed these matters through the
Victim Liaison Office scheme now under development. I look at
that in detail in chapter 27. However,
it became clear to me that, at any rate at the time of this
trial, there was no system in the Procurator Fiscal Service
for providing family liaison at a trial; nor apparently were
there resources to provide an adequate presence throughout a
17.33 I was given a very helpful explanation, by Angela Matthews,
the Precognition Officer from the Hamilton office who attended
the second and third days of the trial, of how she normally
approached her task in regard to family liaison at court -
"Precognition Officers certainly think that it is
good for the precognoscer to be at court for the trial. It
provides continuity. It means there is a friendly face and
a face that the victims know. We have thought it was very
important. We think it is important for the family to have
that continuity. It also helps us because we know that we
have done our absolute best for that family. We can also explain
to the family what is happening in court. For example, if
something is going to be heard outwith the presence of the
jury, I will indicate to the next of kin that I will come
out and speak to them once the decision has been made. Not
being a lawyer, I think Precognition Officers can explain
in less legal terms what is happening and that the family
might understand that better. I would keep it very basic.
I would tell them that the judge swears a witness in, the
Crown then asks the first questions, the defence then asks
questions, the judge may ask questions and then the Crown
will get to ask anything else. I do not tell the families
about verdicts. I have never thought about it. It might give
us problems. For a lot of people something horrendous has
happened to them, they then have a court case. To start telling
them that the person may be found guilty or not guilty is
too much for them to cope with. What I do tell them is that
our job as the Crown is over when we get the case to the jury.
I ...say that the verdict is a matter for the jury. ...Often
a next of kin will ask, will he be found guilty? I would say
that I don't know. I would say that there appears to be sufficient
evidence but that the jury will make their decision."
17.34 This was a person with nearly 30 years' experience in
the Service, who drew her practice not merely from a handbook
or formal training but from the human skills she had acquired
through experience. Mrs Matthews did not have the opportunity
to provide such service in this case, having been called in
without notice and having no previous knowledge of the case.
17.35 By contrast, and unfortunately, the Procurator Fiscal
Depute assigned to the Chhokar case, Alan MacDonald, had no
experience (he had never been in the High Court before this
trial), had been given no instruction at all as to his role
at court, whether in relation to the family or otherwise, and
was burdened with other duties on other cases, including - as
noted above - an out-of-hours call to another murder in the
early hours of the second morning of this trial. He told me
"I had never previously attended the High Court during
my time as a Fiscal Depute. I don't know who instructed me
to attend the trial. I can't recall if Maureen [Sinclair]
specifically said I was to cover it. I just thought that was
all what being a Fiscal was about - going to court was just
another thing you did. I can't recall specifically what 'covering
the case' meant. I had ideas of what I would do in my own
mind. You don't get any training. That's just the job. ...I
was under the impression that I was there primarily to assist
the Advocate Depute. I was either told that or I heard others
talking about it. I wasn't given any instructions or training
in relation to family liaison at the High Court. The first
day of the trial was a bit of a blur. I got there late, I
had been trying to do something with another murder precognition.
I don't really think there's any specific policy about
people attending Court during trials. If you had a murder
trial, you could cover it for more than just the first day
if you wanted to. It really just depended on what else you
had to do. I just assumed you covered the whole thing and
would go until you got called back to the office.
I don't recall whether I was told to go to the High Court
for the first day or to cover the whole of the case. I don't
think there was a specific time frame put on it. I learnt
afterwards that you would usually go for the whole of the
Crown case. I don't know how long I thought I was going to
be there, I knew I had other cases to do. Even if you had
a case at trial, you would still get other duties allocated
to you on the rota. It's not as though you get a murder case
and so you have a free week on the rota. You would need to
ask to be excused from the rota and others would cover your
17.36 The primary task of the Procurator Fiscal Depute at a
trial is to assist the Advocate Depute. I asked Miss McMenamin
about the service she had received at this trial and she was
critical. The detail of that is not within my Terms of Reference,
so I shall not go into it, but it confirmed the impression of
someone who had been sent to court without any kind of instruction
as to his role there. So far as providing any liaison with the
family was concerned, one can only say that it was perfunctory
at the beginning and ceased altogether after the first two days.
17.37 In saying this I do not primarily criticise Mr MacDonald,
whom I found to be an honest and hard-working man, but the system
of management which could send anyone so painfully unprepared
into such a critical situation. What is apparent, with hindsight,
is that the kind of advice which would have been useful to him
was available within his own office, from Precognition Officers
such as Mrs Matthews. I have discussed this in the previous
The Advocate Depute and the Advocate Depute's Assistant
17.38 Miss McMenamin told me of
the circumstances of her encounters with the Chhokar family
during the trial -
"I came out of the back door of the court one lunchtime
with papers and I saw Mr and Mrs Chhokar and who I thought
was their daughter. I think they were waiting for someone
and I nodded to them.... but I did not say anything. I did
acknowledge them and the daughter smiled back. ...Mrs Chhokar's
eyes were downcast. They were standing with their backs to
the wall and the impression I got was that they were waiting
for somebody. I was going up the stairs to continue my preparation
of the case. I was by myself at the time.
I think my next contact with the Chhokars was on the Thursday.
I had parked my car in the car park and was heading into court.
I was not wearing my wig or gown. Mr and Mrs Chhokar
were leaning against a wall outside the court. I was aware
of the fact that I hadn't spoken to them at all during the
course of the trial. I stopped and said , 'How are you coping
with everything?'. I do not remember them saying anything
in response, but they nodded to me. I do not know if they
recognised me without my wig and gown. I did not know that
they needed an interpreter. I got no answer at all from them
and my impression was that perhaps I was intruding on their
grief. I was aware that there is a culture now to make sure
there is liaison with families but I had never been involved
in a Sikh death before and felt I was perhaps being intrusive.
I thought that maybe they did not want to speak to me. This
is based on ignorance about whether it is not part of the
Sikh religion to discuss the death with somebody who is not
of the same religion."
17.39 These were chance encounters, and when I asked Miss McMenamin
why she had spoken to the family her reply was "sheer
human decency". I asked her whether it was her normal
practice to speak with the family during a trial. She told me
that she would sometimes do so, in a murder or rape case, if
it looked likely that the case was not going to prove or if
she was going to have to accept a reduced plea; but would only
do so at the request of the family, and only in the presence
of the Procurator Fiscal, Precognition Officer or representative
from Victim Support.
17.40 Miss McMenamin also told me that she had had no request
from anybody in this case that the Chhokar family would like
to speak to her. She also confirmed that she did not see it
as the role of the `Crown Junior' to take any part in family
liaison, but that contact should always be through the Procurator
Fiscal or Victim Support.
17.41 Finally I asked her what her practice was in relation
to explaining a verdict. She said -
"I would at least have given the family an explanation
afterwards if I had not done it prior to the verdict, i.e.
discuss the possibilities as the judge would have explained
these to the jury. I would have felt beholden to the family.
I have done it in the past, that is, spoken to a family where
the verdict has come back so differently from the charge.
I think the family would look to the Advocate Depute to provide
an explanation for that. If not to the Advocate Depute, they
would look to someone who knows or someone who could speak
to the Advocate Depute."
17.42 Miss Anderson, who took over from Miss McMenamin on the
last day of the trial, also told me that any contact which she
would have with a family at a trial would be in response to
a request passed through the Procurator Fiscal's Office. Since
there was nobody from that office present on the day in question,
she left court without speaking to the family.
17.43 I do not consider that the Advocate Depute should have
any direct contact with relatives or next of kin while a trial
is in progress. The Advocate Depute's duty is that of a public
prosecutor - as described in the evidence from the Dean of the
Faculty, at paragraph 18.30 above
- and that risks being compromised if there is contact with
the relatives of a victim, and may also be misleading to them.
The Advocate Depute should already have been briefed about the
impact of the crime, from information obtained at precognition;
and explanation of procedures and tactics in court should be
provided by the Procurator Fiscal or Precognition Officer or,
under the scheme now being developed, by the Victim Liaison
17.44 The Advocate Depute's Assistant (the `Crown Junior')
has a critical role in the High Court, namely to follow the
Advocate Depute's instructions during the course of a criminal
trial. The Crown Junior is not a `mere' note-taker. The accuracy
of the Crown's notes during a criminal trial is a matter of
pre-eminent importance. The Crown Junior is also invariably
requested by the Advocate Depute - with little notice - to conduct
complex legal research during the course of a criminal trial,
and may on occasion be asked to examine a witness in Court.
The Crown Junior will often be involved in the preparation and
drafting of minutes for presentation to the court or jury.
17.45 Thus it came about that the Chhokar family were left
at the end of the trial to go home, having seen the accused
set free, with no word of explanation from anyone on the prosecution
side. Whatever the legal merits of the case - and they are not
within my remit - that was utterly unsatisfactory. It was inhumane;
and it was a disgrace to the Scottish criminal justice system.
17.46 There is no one individual to be blamed for this debacle.
It was a failure of the system. As it happened, the case concerned
the murder of an Asian man by a group of white men, and the
publicity which has followed it has highlighted that fact. That
is certainly a relevant feature of the case - for example, if
Mr Chhokar had been called to give evidence, no consideration
had been given to the provision of an interpreter - but I do
not find that it was the central feature. It is perfectly clear
to me, from all the evidence I have been given, that if the
victim and his family had been white, they would have suffered
the same treatment. The mistakes over identifying the next of
kin, the failure to make contact with the family and the neglect
of them at the trial - these things could have happened to anyone.
For all I know, they have happened before, perhaps many times.
Institutional racism in the system would be bad; but what happened
was even worse, since it could have happened to anyone, regardless
17.47 There is also a wider issue to be addressed here, namely
the interest of the next of kin in a homicide case. The events
at this trial constitute, in my view, a self-evident case for
the family being given at least an authoritative explanation
of what is going on. However, the question arises, whether explanation
is enough. One of the concerns of victims - that is to say,
the next of kin of someone who has been murdered - is, as I
quoted at the beginning of this chapter, that they have no `voice',
as victims or co-victims, in the trial. That raises a series
of questions, which I shall consider in Chapter 27.
18. REACTION TO THE TRIAL
This chapter deals with the immediate aftermath of the first
trial, when the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign was formed and
became active, and the family and Campaign representatives had
meetings with the Regional Procurator Fiscal in Hamilton and
the Deputy Crown Agent in Edinburgh.
The judge's comments and the Lord Advocate's riposte
18.1 Lord McCluskey's comment at the end of the trial (quoted
at paragraph 18.17 above) was widely
reported in the media, as was the equally forthright reply from
the then Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, reported on 11th
"It is a matter of regret that a judge of such experience
should make such public pronouncements in ignorance of the
background to this case. Such uninformed and ill advised remarks
do not serve the interests of justice and fail to appreciate
the respective roles of the Lord Advocate and the Judiciary.
Prosecution decisions fall within the independent exercise
of the discretion of the Lord Advocate, who is not accountable
to the High Court of Justiciary or to any of its judges for
such decisions. From the preliminary report given to me I
am satisfied that the action taken in this case was the most
appropriate in the circumstances and the reasons for it are
18.2 The consequence for the Chhokar family was dramatic too.
Having been unknown to the public and largely ignored by the
prosecuting authorities during the trial, they were suddenly
propelled into full public view, and their comments reported
in the press. These first comments are significant in relation
to what was to follow -
On 11th March Surjit's father, Darshan Singh Chhokar
is quoted as having said: "Someone killed my son.
Yet whoever it is they are not in jail."; 20
and Surjit's sister, Manjit: "Within a week the police
arrested three men for this crime, but it looks like something
has gone wrong in the court system. We expected three men
to go on trial. When we arrived at the High Court and saw
just one man on trial we were very confused. We have never
been given any explanation why this happened. The judge is
obviously concerned and it is the right thing to do to have
an investigation into this."
18.3 These immediate reactions from the family emphasise injustice
and a failure to explain to them what was going on. I cannot
believe that this very public disagreement between the trial
judge and the Lord Advocate can have brought any comfort to
the Chhokar family. They were in any case dismayed at the outcome
of the trial: the judge's remarks reinforced their feeling that
justice had not been done - Mrs Sengha's comment confirms that
- and the Lord Advocate's sharp response gave them no reassurance.
18.4 The remarks of Mr Chhokar and Mrs Sengha do not mention
race as an issue; but in the climate of the time - the Macpherson
Report on the Stephen Lawrence case had very recently been published
- others did comment on it. The same article reported -
"Aamer Anwar, a race campaigner who was once beaten
up by Strathclyde Police officers, described the Chhokar
case as "totally unacceptable. This shows that
the Crown Office is in a total mess, and sends out a green
light to racial attackers. Stephen Lawrence's attackers are
still out on the street and so are the killers of this man."
Race campaigners were angered by the Chhokar case.
Mick Conboy, the policy officer for the Scottish Commission
for Racial Equality, said it was bizarre and alarming in the
week after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report. "It
is appalling to say the least that you have got an Indian
man dead, attacked by three white guys, and no-one is being
held responsible for it. There is a tremendous amount of work
to do in Scotland to ensure that our criminal justice system
is up to scratch in recognising and dealing with racially-motivated
crime. How is the black community supposed to have any confidence
18.5 The race theme was picked up by the family the following
""We are obviously asking ourselves if the fact
that my brother was Asian is the reason why just one out of
the three men who were charged with his murder were on trial,"
Mr Chhokar's sister, Manjit, 37, said. "Did
the Crown Office not bother bringing three men to court because
my brother was a Sikh? Was he less important? It sounds unbelievable,
but the Stephen Lawrence case has shown that things like this
18.6 On 15th March the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign
was formed and on 17th March it issued a letter to
MPs seeking support for the campaign and its aims. The letter
(reproduced at Appendix 3) criticised the conduct of the case
and the approach to racial motivation; accused the criminal
justice system in Scotland of institutional racism; and pointed
out that "no effort has been made to explain the decisions
of the Crown Office, and the Lord Advocate refuses to disclose
the reasons for the actions of the Crown".
18.7 Meantime the Lord Advocate took action. Lord Hardie told
"I did not see the papers until after the acquittal
in the first trial. I doubt if either of the Law Officers
saw the papers prior to that. The first thing I knew about
any difficulty was when Lord McCluskey made his pronouncement
in court. I was in London at
the time and received a call from Crown Office. ... I asked
for a verbal report at that time from a senior official in
Crown Office and this provoked my response to Lord McCluskey's
18.8 He also called for an immediate written report from the
Advocate Depute who had taken the case in court (this was submitted
to him on 12th March) and for a report from the Hamilton
Procurator Fiscal's Office. He recognised that there had been
a failure in family liaison -
"As I understood it there was guidance to Procurators
Fiscal that they should keep relatives informed of proceedings.
My impression was that in general this did work. In the Chhokar
case, it did not happen. It was clear that there had been
a series of events which had prevented it. Mr Chhokar
was in India at some stage and there was also a question of
whether he understood what was happening. That question had
not been addressed by anyone in the Procurator Fiscal's Office.
We ought to have been more careful to explain to the Chhokar
family the procedures and what was happening. There ought
to have been someone there from the Procurator Fiscal's Office
to explain what was happening, for example, at the end of
each day's proceedings. Someone ought to have taken this family
aside and explained to them what precisely had happened. I
think that is where we failed."
18.9 The Lord Advocate also arranged a meeting with Dr Moussa
Jogee, Deputy Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality,
and the meeting took place on 19th March.
Meeting with the Chhokar family
18.10 The Lord Advocate's instruction that the local office
should meet the family was conveyed in a letter of 17th
March from Janet Cameron, Head of the High Court Unit, to Douglas
Brown, the Regional Procurator Fiscal. It stated that -
"members of the deceased's family should be seen and
it should be explained to them that, as had always been intended,
following the disposal of the proceedings against Ronnie Coulter,
further investigations will be carried out. The family will
no doubt be interested in the reasons why all three of the
accused who appeared on petition were not indicted for murder.
The families should be reassured that the case was considered
carefully by Crown Counsel who, on a professional assessment
of the evidence, took the decision that it was appropriate
at that stage to indict Ronnie Coulter only."
The letter also said that the Lord Advocate wished the Regional
Procurator Fiscal to review the standard of precognition work
and the manner in which liaison with the relatives was handled.
18.11 Alan MacDonald wrote immediately to Mr Darshan Singh
Chhokar and to Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar offering them a meeting
on 19th March. It was a very brief letter -
"Dear Mr Chhokar
DEATH OF SURJIT SINGH CHHOKAR
The Regional Procurator Fiscal, Mr Brown, would very much
like to meet with you and any members of your family, if convenient,
on Friday, 19 March 1999 at this office at 2.30 pm to discuss
the death of Mr Chhokar and the recent High Court trial.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Procurator Fiscal Depute"
18.12 A letter in identical terms was sent to the widow, Sanehdeep
Chhokar. She replied and arranged a meeting for 24th
March, but later called off the appointment.
18.13 The meeting with the family
duly took place on 19th March. It has been described
to me by both of the officials who took part, namely Mr Brown,
Regional Procurator Fiscal and Mr MacDonald. Mr Brown told me
"I had a general chat with Janet Cameron about the
preparation of the case, Lord McCluskey's outburst and how
we should take things forward. I was instructed to see the
family. The RPF [Regional Procurator Fiscal] would
generally only get involved in this way if there was a particular
issue of concern to Crown Office and they wanted it dealt
with under the supervision of an RPF.
I met the Chhokar family along with Alan MacDonald. Mr Chhokar
Snr, his wife and Aamer Anwar were present. There was also
a woman with them and I understood her to be the solicitor.
I met with them in my office here at Hamilton. The meeting
was set up through Alan MacDonald. He wrote to the Chhokar
family. I discussed with Alan what the meeting was to be about
prior to the meeting taking place.
Mr Chhokar did not speak in English. Aamer Anwar
was interpreting. Occasionally when I was speaking, Mr Chhokar
apparently understood my questions and provided a response
in his language to Mr Anwar.
Mr Chhokar's main concerns seemed to relate to the trial
and the outcome of it. He wanted to know why Ronnie Coulter
had got off. He wanted to know why that happened and he also
wanted an explanation as to why the Advocate Depute had not
moved for sentence. I explained that the verdict was a matter
for the jury and I couldn't comment on it. As far as the Advocate
Depute not moving for sentence was concerned, I said that
I would raise that matter with Crown Office. It was a reasonably
amicable meeting and the Chhokars seemed a reasonable family.
Mr Anwar commented about the lack of liaison with the
family. He said there was no liaison in the court and the
relatives were left wondering what had happened. There was
no mention of race.
Mr Anwar concentrated on the trial and the lack of liaison
there. He may also have raised the fact that there had been
no information given to the family in relation to only Ronnie
Coulter being indicted.
The Chhokar family was not critical of the police but
were critical of the Crown and the prosecution service in
deciding to prosecute only Ronnie Coulter and also in relation
to the liaison aspects. The Chhokar family lacked understanding
about what was happening as a result of a lack of information.
In particular, they could not understand why we only prosecuted
Ronnie Coulter in the first instance.
I am aware of the letter [the Chhokar Family Justice
Campaign letter dated 17th March 1999] but I
did not see the letter before I met the family in March 1999.
In relation to the Advocate Depute not moving for sentence
I explained that I did not know the reason for that in this
case. I further explained, however, that it is not unusual
in murder cases where an accused is convicted of a much lesser
charge for the Advocate Depute not to move for sentence.
Mr Anwar told me that the family wanted a full transcript
of the trial. He asked for the transcript to be in English.
I told him that whether the transcript would be authorised
would be a matter for the Clerk of Justiciary. Mr Anwar then
raised the issue of payment. I explained that Crown Office
would not normally pay for transcripts but undertook to raise
it with Crown Office. I did this because of the fact that
the case was so unusual that I could not rule out that Crown
Office would not pay for the transcript, though I thought
18.14 Mr MacDonald described and commented on the meeting as
"I recall writing to Mr Chhokar and the deceased's
widow on 17 March 1999, inviting them to attend the meeting
with the Regional Procurator Fiscal and myself on 19 March.
It was a brief letter. I didn't get a reply. I sent the first
letter and got no reply, I then sent a second letter and got
no reply, but they turned up at the meeting. I don't know
what happened to the letter. I don't recall if a letter was
also sent to the widow, but if it's in the file then I must
have done. I don't recall why they were all invited to the
one meeting. Inviting two different factions to the one
meeting never dawned on me at the time because I did not know
that there had been a falling-out.
The people present at the meeting were myself, the Regional
Procurator Fiscal, the deceased's father and sister, Aamer
Anwar and a female solicitor.... Mr Chhokar Senior's
wife was also there.
The particular questions which were asked were why only
one individual was prosecuted, why no motion was made for
sentence and concerns about the level of contact with the
family pre-trial. ... I think there was a later meeting with
Mrs Chhokar on 24 March, but I was not there.
The Regional Procurator Fiscal explained that the decision
to only prosecute one of the accused was based on the evidence
and the continued investigation of the other two accused.
I don't recall whether a timescale was given for the conclusion
of this further investigation, but it was discussed. We just
said that the case was ongoing and that the evidence couldn't
be discussed. This wasn't really put into simple language,
but we were dealing more with Aamer Anwar than the Chhokars
and Aamer Anwar was interpreting. A point would be raised
and sometimes an answer would be given and Aamer Anwar would
interpret. Other times it would just go back and forth between
us and Aamer Anwar. Sometimes he'd then go back and fill the
family in. Maybe an official interpreter should have been
present at the first meeting, but it didn't occur to me to
have one and no-one else suggested it.
If Mr Anwar was acting as solicitor then what about the
role of Ian Smart, solicitor? They can't both have being acting.
The family seemed to accept that there could be no prejudice
in relation to the ongoing proceedings and that certain things
couldn't be mentioned at the press conference. Aamer Anwar
accepted this on their behalf. Aamer Anwar appeared to accept
it and the family appeared to accept it.
Aamer Anwar asked about the decision not to move for sentence
- anything asked was raised by him. The Chhokars said very
little. I think Mr Chhokar spoke and responded to Aamer
Anwar's interpreting. I don't think a satisfactory answer
was given for the fact that there was no motion for sentence.
A legal explanation was given, namely regarding the Advocate
Depute's discretion. I think it would be reasonable for the
family to wonder why that happened. I don't know if they were
influenced by Lord McCluskey's comments, that may be
speculation. I don't know whether the Regional Procurator
Fiscal asked if they were satisfied with the answer.
I don't think that the family walked out of the meeting
satisfied, they still felt that clarification was needed."
18.15 Mr Brown's record of the meeting is contained in a letter
to Frank Crowe, Deputy Crown Agent, on Monday 22nd
"I confirmed that the decision to prosecute only Ronnie
Coulter initially was made on the basis of Crown Counsel's
assessment of the evidence and that it had always been intended
to investigate further in relation to the other 2 accused
after the disposal of the case against him. I indicated that
these further investigations may be concluded within a month
and undertook to write to them at that stage to confirm the
I explained to them why I could not discuss the evidence
and they appeared to accept this though naturally enough they
had difficulty in understanding the outcome of the case against
Ronnie Coulter. They accepted that every effort should be
made to avoid doing anything which could prejudice the possibility
of further proceedings in the case and undertook to bear that
in mind at their press conference on Monday, 22 March.
As regards specific requests, they said that they would like
a transcript of the evidence at Ronnie Coulter's trial in
order that they would have a full picture as to what was said.
They had obviously made some enquiries about this already
and said that they had been quoted a figure of £500 a
day for such a transcript. This was something they could not
afford and they suggested that the Crown should pay. I told
them that ultimately it was a matter for the Justiciary Office
as to whether a transcript would be issued and that I thought
it unlikely that this request would be granted not only because
of the substantial cost but because the Justiciary Office
only issued transcripts for certain limited purposes and did
not generally do so in circumstances such as these. I did
however undertake to pass the request on.
They also wanted to know why the Advocate Depute did not
move for sentence. I explained that where an accused has been
remanded in custody pending trial and is convicted of a much
reduced charge the Advocate Depute has a discretion not to
move for sentence but they were clearly not satisfied with
this answer, no doubt being influenced by Lord McCluskey's
comments. I accordingly said that I would seek an answer to
They also raised the point about keeping relatives advised.
Fortunately Alan McDonald, the depute who precognosced this
case, did communicate with the relatives and in particular
with Mrs Chhokar, the deceased's wife, who I am seeing on
Wednesday 24 March, and their criticism seemed focused on
what happened at the end of the trial when they were left
wondering what had taken place and no-one said anything to
them. This did not appear to be something for which they wished
an answer and was rather said as a criticism. I told them
that it was our policy to keep relatives advised."
18.16 Mr Brown followed up the meeting with the Chhokars by
a letter of 1st April to Mr Chhokar. I deal with
18.17 This was a crucial meeting. Great damage had been done
by the failure of family liaison before and during the trial,
and this was the first opportunity to start to repair it. The
way in which the meeting was convened and conducted reveals
how little idea the Hamilton office had, even at that stage,
of how to deal with a bereaved family -
· The style and presentation of Mr MacDonald's
letter of invitation is heartless. It is a style in which
an official might appropriately write to a citizen about,
for example, the payment of a licence fee. It is not the style
in which anyone should write to a father about the death of
· The letter did not convey that the meeting
was being called on the personal instruction of the Lord Advocate.
Mr Brown's evidence testifies that it was an unusual step
even for the Regional Procurator Fiscal to take part in a
meeting such as this. Nothing seems to have been done to convey
to the family that their concerns were now being taken seriously
at the highest level.
· Mr MacDonald's assumption that Mr Chhokar would
reply to a letter was naïve - the same mistake which
underlay his original failure to make contact with the father.
Lawyers and other professional people are used to doing business
together by letter; but many citizens are not, and are unpractised
and nervous about committing themselves to writing. In this
case, there was also a question about whether Mr Chhokar would
fully understand a letter written in English; and even more
whether he would have been able to compose a reply in English.
· No thought had been given as to whether an
official interpreter would be needed. This contrasts sharply
with the police in their first contacts with the family, and
was a basic error, as the following analysis of the meeting
18.18 Mr Brown considered that it was an amicable meeting,
but the family found it unsatisfactory, principally because
it failed to give them answers to their questions. These were,
as related by Mr Brown -
· Why Ronnie Coulter had got off;
· Why the Advocate Depute had not moved for sentence;
· Why only one man was prosecuted; and
· Whether the family could have a transcript
of the trial.
18.19 When I met the Chhokar family and Mr Anwar on 16th
February 2001, Mr Anwar had the following to say about this
"You also have to look at the attitudes within the
Fiscal Service. When we first had a meeting with the RPF and
the Depute Fiscal at Hamilton, the attitudes left a lot to
be desired. There was complete arrogance on the part of Douglas
Brown. No answers were given to the family."
18.20 In similar vein a report in The Observer of 21st
March 1999 states,
`No one explained why only one was in the dock. A meeting
was held with prosecution officials on Friday, but they were
unable to explain that, or why Coulter was not sent for sentencing.'
18.21 I have to say that I am not surprised that the family
felt the way they did. Looking at their questions in turn I
comment that -
· The family were given some explanation of the
role of the jury in finding the accused guilty on a reduced
charge. The explanation may or may not have been intelligible
and acceptable to them; but since there was no official or
independent interpreter present the officials could not know
whether the answers they were giving were adequate.
· Mr Brown's letter to the Deputy Crown Agent
records that he was unable to answer the question about not
moving for sentence, except in vague terms; but he did give
an undertaking to seek an answer. He subsequently sent a holding
reply on this point, in a letter of 1st April to
Mr Chhokar. I shall deal with that letter below.
· The central question in this meeting was why
only one person had been prosecuted. The family had heard
the trial judge in his closing remarks voice what they themselves
were thinking; and the Lord Advocate had specifically instructed
his officials to deal with it for the family. Mr Brown summarised
the response he gave, in the first paragraph of his letter
to the Deputy Crown Agent, quoted above. Mr MacDonald's observation
was that no satisfactory answer was given. The main focus
of Mr Brown's presentation seems to have been on the need
not to compromise evidence which might be used at a later
trial; and he was of course perfectly correct to emphasise
that. However, the family were clearly not satisfied with
the answer to their own question, for they continued to raise
it repeatedly afterwards.
· The question of a transcript was dealt with
in subsequent correspondence.
18.22 This would have been a difficult meeting to handle in
any case, and it is unlikely that, however it had been handled,
the family could have been given full satisfaction. However,
the officials compounded the difficulty for themselves by failing
at the beginning of the meeting to establish who the other persons
present were, and in what capacity they were present. There
were two persons who were not family members: Mr Anwar and an
unidentified woman, who was assumed to be a lawyer. It was of
course perfectly correct to admit them to the meeting, if the
family wanted them there: the family was entitled to bring with
them such friends and supporters as they felt they needed. But
when strangers are admitted to a meeting it is not discourteous,
and may be essential, to ask them to identify themselves and
to state in what capacity they are attending. This was a failure
of normal meeting etiquette, at the very least; but it was also
a professional failure, considering that the hosts were lawyers
and the business was legal, to establish whether the visitors
were legally qualified or lay. Mr MacDonald at least was formulating
the question in his mind - `are you acting for the family?'
- but the question was not asked, and confusion ensued.
18.23 This failure was compounded in the case of Mr Anwar,
in that he was accepted as an interpreter, but was also, as
the hosts quickly discovered, rather more than that. Mr Anwar
was, and is, a campaigner. The family was, and is, fully entitled
to seek the assistance and guidance of a campaigner or any representative
that it chooses. However, Mr Anwar was also accepted as an interpreter,
and that led to a confusion of roles, as Mr MacDonald's evidence
clearly demonstrates. The result was that the officials got
drawn into a dialogue with Mr Anwar, and in the absence of an
official interpreter they had no means of knowing what the family
- the parents in particular - were being told or what they were
learning from it. They had reason to doubt whether the Chhokar
parents were being given explanations of the legal system which
they could understand, but they were prevented from checking
the explanations with the parents directly, and thereby hindered
in their attempt to build up a rapport and a relationship of
trust with them.
18.24 Surjit's widow, Sanehdeep, was not at the meeting, and
she was given no feedback from it. As I have noted above, she
made a separate appointment, but then cancelled it, saying that
she would contact Mr Brown at a later date. Mr Brown drew the
conclusion that she did not want to be involved further. He
told me -
"The impression I got was that she did not want to
make further contact and that she did not want to see me.
You have to be sensitive and should not harass an individual
into a meeting with you."
18.25 I accept that the inference which Mr Brown drew may have
been correct, and showed some sensitivity. Nevertheless, I do
not accept that he was entitled to assume that she had no further
interest. She was entitled to get the same information as was
given to the other members of the family, and she should have
been given it.
Letter from the MP
18.26 The question of why only one person had been prosecuted
was raised again, by Frank Roy MP (Motherwell and Wishaw) on
behalf of the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign, in a letter dated
18th March to the Lord Advocate. Mr Roy asked that
the Lord Advocate provide him "with any information as
to the reason for proceeding against one person only, when it
appears that three people were originally charged and appeared
on Petition". He also asked if the Lord Advocate intended
to take any proceedings against other people.
18.27 The Lord Advocate replied the next day. His letter explained
that in general it was long established and accepted general
practice not to provide detailed reasons for decisions about
prosecution or non-prosecution in any case. He referred to the
risk of cases which were still under investigation, such as
the Chhokar case, being prejudiced by such comment. He explained
that one of the issues to be considered in any case was the
sufficiency of evidence to meet the high standard of proof in
criminal cases (beyond reasonable doubt). He confirmed that
the case was still current and would remain so until a final
decision had been taken, and that before taking a decision on
further proceedings, he had instructed further investigations.
Follow-up to the meeting with the family
18.28 On 1st April Mr Brown wrote to Mr Chhokar
to reply to the two points which he had undertaken at the meeting
of 19th March to follow up. Again I quote the letter
in full, for it is as significant for its tone as for its content
`1 April, 1999
Dear Mr Chhokar
I refer to our meeting on 19 March.
You asked whether you could be provided with a transcript
of the evidence at the trial of Ronnie Coulter. As I said
at our meeting, it is a matter for the Justiciary Office (in
terms of Section 94(2)(b) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland)
Act 1995) whether a transcript is issued and it may be that
they will not be prepared to issue a transcript. Any request
for a transcript has to be made to the Clerk of Justiciary,
Justiciary Office, Parliament Square, Edinburgh EH1 1RQ, giving
the reason for the request. As regards the cost of the transcript,
I have checked the position with the Crown Office and I regret
that we will be unable to pay for it.
You also asked why the Advocate Depute did not move for sentence.
I am however unable to say anything further about that.
I undertook to write to you in about a month from our
meeting to let you know how our inquiries were progressing.
I shall of course do that. At present it looks as if these
inquiries will be completed by then and that I will have the
case re-reported to Crown Office for a decision on further
DOUGLAS A BROWN
Regional Procurator Fiscal'
18.29 I put it to Mr Brown that this could seem a cold-blooded
response, such as might be appropriate to send to a solicitor
- with its references to statute - but not to a bereaved parent.
He replied -
"I was asked two very specific questions and
I gave a specific response to that. It looks like a cold letter
but I do not see it as something which should have been handled
in a different way. The questions arose out of a cordial meeting
and there were no bad feelings expressed. The family asked
specific questions and I gave answers.
It seemed to me that Mr Anwar was very involved with the
family and would pick up on everything for the family. I also
got the impression that the lady with the family was a solicitor.
I was not wanting to give a bland statement but gave an explanation,
hence the reference to the Acts of Parliament."
18.30 I accept that in part. Mr Brown was right to be mindful
that the recipient of a letter such as this might put it in
the hands of his solicitor. Nevertheless it was addressed to
the individual: nothing would have been lost, and there was
something to gain in trust and goodwill, by the inclusion of
some indication of personal sympathy with Mr Chhokar's situation.
The Regional Procurator Fiscal is an official, answerable to
a Minister, the Lord Advocate: no Minister would have put his
signature to a letter drafted in these impersonal terms.
18.31 For the same reasons the content of the letter is unacceptable,
in respect of the bald statement about the reasons for not moving
for sentence - `I am unable to say anything further about that.'
It is true that at this point Mr Brown was acting on the advice
he had received from Crown Counsel; but this was an opportunity
at least to put on record the general explanation which Mr Brown
had given at the meeting. The concept of `moving for sentence'
is familiar to those who work in the criminal courts, but it
is unknown - and must seem inexplicable - to the general public.
In the handling of this point, and in the other explanations
which were given at the meeting, little or no account seems
to have been taken, not merely of possible language difficulties
for the Chhokar family but of the unfamiliarity of any member
of the public who has not had experience of the criminal justice
18.32 I am aware of the sensitivities surrounding the need
to avoid looking behind prosecution decisions and that this
may have led to the Procurator Fiscal being cautious about what
he told the family. However, it would have been possible for
him to discuss questions of general approach and principle.
Lord Hardie, in giving evidence to me, used the sort of terms
which could have been used in discussion with the family:
"Ronnie Coulter was convicted of a simple assault
not involving a weapon. If a weapon had been involved, the
Advocate Depute would undoubtedly have moved for sentence.
.... It is important to get the precise terms of the Jury's
verdict which shows that Ronnie Coulter was convicted of simple
assault. Someone in custody on a charge of murder would have
been in custody for three months prior to his trial.
That is the equivalent to a six month sentence. Faced
with the same facts I might have taken the same decision in
not moving for sentence."
The family's solicitor
18.33 On Thursday 8th April Ian Smart, of Ian S
Smart & Co, Solicitors, wrote to the Regional Procurator
Fiscal to say that he had been asked to represent Mr and Mrs
Chhokar. On the following Monday, 12th April, Mr
Brown had a telephone conversation with Mr Smart and recorded
on the file that Mr Smart had direct contact with the family
who were concerned that the Procurator Fiscal's Office should
get things right rather than rush to a decision. Mr Brown confirmed
that everything would be very fully considered and that there
was a possibility of a decision within a week. He told Mr Smart
that he had undertaken to write to the parents. He recorded
that Mr Smart was content for the Procurator Fiscal to communicate
with Mr and Mrs Chhokar either directly or through him.
Second meeting with the family, at the Crown Office
18.34 There were no further meetings between the family and
the Procurator Fiscal's Office at this period. However, on 16th
April the family, accompanied by Mr Anwar and others, travelled
to Edinburgh to ask to meet Ministers, namely the Lord Advocate
and Henry McLeish MP, who was Minister of State at that time.
18.35 The Lord Advocate declined to meet them. Lord Hardie
told me -
"I did not see the Chhokar family. I refused to see
the deceased's parents and Mr Anwar. It was not appropriate
for me to meet them at that stage until the case was concluded.
... I was quite happy to do that after the conclusion of the
second trial. In the event, Colin Boyd met with the family
just as I would have done had I been Lord Advocate."
18.36 Similarly the present Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, who
was Solicitor General at the time, told me -
"It was viewed as inappropriate for the Lord Advocate
himself to meet the family. The Lord Advocate was considering
whether to bring a prosecution against Andrew Coulter and
David Montgomery. We were aware that there might be difficulties
because of publicity surrounding the comments of the Lord Advocate
and the trial judge. The Lord Advocate did not want to
add to the potential difficulties. The first priority of the
Lord Advocate was to enable, if possible, a prosecution
against the 2 remaining accused.
He [the Lord Advocate] had met with other families
in the past but only after the trial was concluded. He took
the view that it would be difficult for the person involved
in taking the final decision as to prosecution to meet with
the family. He also took the view that it was not necessary
for the family to meet with a Law Officer in order to have
the position explained to them."
18.37 I agree with those views. Any decision to prosecute has
to be taken in the public interest, and must not be seen to
be compromised by pressure from any individual.
18.38 However, the Lord Advocate did not turn the family away.
He instructed officials to meet them. An impromptu meeting therefore
took place. The Deputy Crown Agent, Frank Crowe, accompanied
by Susan Burns, High Court Unit, met Mr and Mrs Chhokar, Mr
Anwar, Dr Serjinder Singh (an interpreter) and one other family
supporter. The Crown Office note of the meeting (at Appendix
7) records the issues which were raised.
· Once again the questions of why only one person
was on trial and why the Crown did not move for sentence were
· there was pressure for a decision on whether
the other two accused would be prosecuted;
· suggestions were made that there might be new
evidence, and intimidation of a witness;
· the family's complaints about their treatment
at the trial were repeated;
· Mr Crowe offered to discuss Mr Anwar's participation
in racial awareness training for the Crown Office and Procurator
Fiscal Service; and
· Mr Crowe said that there were lessons about
keeping families informed which could be learned from the
case. He was sorry that the points raised had caused additional
grief. He said that family members were also witnesses and
the police should have let the Procurator Fiscal know if there
were any language difficulties. There had been an assumption
that Mr Chhokar's English was fluent. He was now aware that
an interpreter was needed and was keen to have someone to
interpret for the family.
18.39 I have been given accounts of the meeting from two of
the people who were present, namely Mr Crowe, the Deputy Crown
Agent and Dr Serjinder Singh whom Mr Chhokar brought to the
meeting as an interpreter. Mr Crowe said -
"...we heard that the family was coming through to
Edinburgh to see Henry McLeish. He then decided not to see
the family. A bus arrived in Chambers Street and the family
wanted to meet with the Lord Advocate. It was not considered
appropriate for the Lord Advocate to meet the family given
that decisions still required to be taken regarding the other
two accused. I was then delegated to see the Chhokar family.
... Mr and Mrs Chhokar, the sister, Aamer Anwar and 2 or 3
colleagues arrived at Crown Office ... There was certainly
one other Sikh gentleman with the party.
We sat at a long table and Mr and Mrs Chhokar sat to my
right with Aamer Anwar beside them. Most of the conversation
took place through Aamer Anwar. There was another man who
sat opposite me and he was introduced as an interpreter by
Mr Anwar. He did not, in fact, interpret. It did not totally
surprise me as I knew of Mr Anwar being a racial activist.
It became obvious to me that it was quite a sensitive meeting
but it was difficult because I was not aware how much was
coming from Mr Anwar and how much from Mr Chhokar.
I found the meeting difficult because of the way the party
sat in the room. It was important for me to address my remarks
to Mr Chhokar. My understanding was that Mr Chhokar had
a degree of understanding of English but that Mrs Chhokar
did not have any English. I then addressed my remarks to Mr Chhokar
and asked Mr Anwar to interpret. My impression was that communication
was reasonably good in the circumstances and I thanked Mr
Anwar for facilitation of that. I was relying on him as we
did not have any interpretation facilities.
(The Crown Office had been given no notice of the meeting,
and therefore could not in any case have done anything about
I would like to think on a personal level that I have
a good relationship with the Chhokar family. They have always
been polite to me and I know it has been difficult for them,
particularly due to the health problems of Mr Chhokar.
I thought in my culture the proper thing was to be respectful
and direct my remarks to them and I appeared to be getting
respect back from the Chhokars.
I felt Mr Chhokar had a level of understanding of the
discussions and this was supplemented by Mr Anwar's interpreting.
Mr Anwar obviously had some form of prepared speech at the
beginning of the meeting. This included the phrase 'they will
be saying they murdered a Paki'.
Aamer Anwar was more prepared for the meeting than I was
in the sense that he had come to Edinburgh expecting to have
a meeting with someone whereas as I had had relatively short
notice to prepare for the family and consider how to address
their needs at that time.
I did offer to give the family an explanation of what
had happened in previous proceedings but Mr Anwar indicated
they did not have time to go into that.
I do not think Mr Chhokar was at all well at the
meeting. A lot of Mr Chhokar's feelings come from the
heart and to some extent they result from a lack of understanding
of the proceedings etc. ... Aamer Anwar is a trainee lawyer
and lacks experience in a lot of areas. He has not been able
to advise or reassure Mr Chhokar on lots of the obvious
questions regarding the proceedings. I know that Mr Anwar
had sought advice from several lawyers. It is not a solicitor/client
relationship between Mr Anwar and Mr Chhokar but I am not
saying that that is the ideal."
18.40 I asked Mr Crowe what he understood to be the purpose
of the meeting. He said -
"To have the organisation branded as institutionally
racist. We had seen some of the material from the Chhokar
Family Justice Campaign, including questions about who had
reduced the charge to one of simple assault. I think this
was a theme Aamer Anwar was developing but I had to say that
it was the jury who had convicted the accused of assault."
18.41 Dr Singh was at the same meeting, to support Mr Chhokar.
Dr Singh is the manager of Glasgow Interpreting Services. He
is of about the same age as Mr Chhokar and they came from the
same part of the Punjab. I asked him whether Mr Chhokar's
difficulties were caused by his lack of understanding of English
or of the procedures involved. He told me -
"Both. His English is just good enough for day to
day. He would not understand official procedures within the
court. That was the impression I got from him. From my experience
and from looking at his facial expressions, I do not think
Mr Chhokar was thoroughly understanding what was going
on or what was being said on his behalf. He could answer simple
questions in English but he always spoke to me in Punjabi.
In terms of his capacity to handle English as a speaking language
I would say that he would be a 3 or at most 4 on a scale of
1 to 10. The way I gauged this was not just from him speaking
but from his facial expressions when someone was speaking
18.42 I asked Dr Singh about his recollection of the meeting
at Crown Office on 16th April 1999, and his own part
in it. He told me -
"...statements were to be read on behalf of Mr Chhokar.
Aamer Anwar had prepared the statements. Mr Chhokar could
understand broadly what was being said. He asked me to say
something but by the time I was asking Mr Chhokar what
he wanted me to say, Aamer Anwar intervened and said that
he would say it. Mr Chhokar was very disappointed. Mr Chhokar
knows that I am an interpreter.
There was then a meeting inside the Lord Advocate's
office. I was there with Mr Chhokar, Mrs Chhokar,
Aamer Anwar and a friend of mine. It was there that Aamer
Anwar was acting as an interpreter. Mr Chhokar was saying
certain things in Punjabi and Aamer Anwar was editing what
was being said. Mr Chhokar became irritated. He turned
to me and said, `Why aren't you saying anything?' I said that
Aamer Anwar was not letting me say anything. Mr Chhokar
...I do not think Mr Chhokar was always happy with
the interpreting being done by Mr Anwar. I think the
text of what Mr Chhokar was saying was not coming out
... He wanted to say things in emotional terms about his son.
Aamer Anwar seemed to think this was the same thing being
said over and over again. Aamer Anwar was more interested
in terms of processing matters and the campaign. Mr Chhokar
wanted to convey the impact of what had happened to him but
he was handicapped in terms of language. The way you interpret
things is often through body language and emotions. That is
important in a Sikh person. I do not think Aamer Anwar understood
that. He was more concerned about the media image.
If you are an interpreter you do not add or take away
anything which is said, not just in text but also in intonation.
If something is said in anger then the interpreter should
convey it in anger. The interpreter should have the same impact
on the listener as the person making the comment. If there
is not that same impact then the interpreter is withholding
something. If a person is acting as a spokesperson that is
a different matter. He is not acting as interpreter. I think
Mr Anwar's role as spokesperson did adversely impact
on his role as interpreter for Mr Chhokar."
18.43 This was a meeting quite unlike the preceding one at
the Hamilton office. It took place in Edinburgh, with the Deputy
Crown Agent, and under the direct authority of the Lord Advocate.
It was not arranged in advance, and was held in the midst of
a campaigning day by the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign, who
had publicised their visit to Edinburgh and their intention
to call on Ministers. The Campaign had its own agenda, but I
have to assess this meeting in terms of its value to the members
of the Chhokar family who were at the meeting.
18.44 From the accounts quoted above, it appears that the family
could have learned little or nothing new about the matters which
concerned them. The Deputy Crown Agent was at pains to communicate
with them directly, so far as language allowed, but when he
offered to give some legal explanation he was cut short by Mr
Anwar. Mrs Sengha, Mr Chhokar's daughter, took some part in
the discussion, but Mr Chhokar was, for various reasons, able
to say very little. Dr Singh, who was an interpreter, was scarcely
brought into the dialogue at all. Both Mr Crowe and Dr Singh
observed that Mr Anwar was confusing the roles of interpreter
and spokesman; and Dr Singh was sure that what Mr Chhokar wanted
to say was being suppressed.
18.45 Nevertheless the meeting did serve a constructive purpose.
It brought the family face to face with a high-ranking official,
reporting directly to the Lord Advocate, and he gave them a
sympathetic hearing and made a genuine attempt to be helpful
18.46 Following this meeting Mr Crowe reported on it to the
Lord Advocate, in the context of a more general submission about
the case, on 27th April -
`An indication was given to the family that a decision would
be forthcoming within the next month or they would be advised
if the timescale was likely to take longer ...
... Mr Chhokar, Snr is not a fluent English speaker and his
wife apparently speaks no English. The deceased's sister is
a fluent speaker. Mr Anwar carried out interpreting duties
but also pursued his own agenda. Fortunately, the party was
augmented by another interpreter who was a Sikh who adopted
a fairly reasonable approach.
Clearly, the family's lack of understanding of English has
meant that they still do not precisely understand what took
place at the previous proceedings. I offered to explain as
best I could what took place at the earlier trial but Mr Anwar
was anxious to continue his own agenda and then travel to
the Scottish Office with the group to make a protest there
In the long term, after the case has concluded, there may
be scope for meeting the family. As long as the family do
not understand our procedures because of a lack of fluency
in English, then the institutional racist tag could be levied
against the Department. On the one hand the campaign is keen
to see the others prosecuted for Mr Chhokar's murder but on
the other hand seem keen to pore over a transcript of the
previous proceedings and Mr Anwar seems to wish to bracket
this case with the Stephen Lawrence case.'
18.47 This admirably accurate, complete and succinct report,
coming from a very senior official, ensured that Ministers were
fully aware of the situation, both as regards the political
dimension and the needs and concerns of the family.
19. FROM MAY 1999 TO OCTOBER
This chapter covers the period from May 1999 to the trial of
Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery in October 2000. This was
a period of protracted legal process. In the early months liaison
with the various members of the Chhokar family was fragmented
and, in relation to the widow and her children, seriously defective;
but satisfactory arrangements were developed later.
19.1 The publicity following the first trial, in March 1999,
and the emergence of the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign gave
the case a public and political profile which Ministers and
senior officials had to recognise; and the meeting with the
family and the Campaign at the Crown Office on 16th
April reinforced their sense of obligation to the family, or
at any rate to Surjit's parents. The widow, Sanehdeep, was not
part of the delegation which went to Edinburgh on 16th
April, and distanced herself from the Campaign. Since the Procurator
Fiscal's Office had failed to recognise the significance of
this, her interests were unwittingly neglected for some time.
I shall deal with this latter point first, setting it in the
context of the activity which took place between 16th
April and service of the indictment on David Montgomery and
Andrew Coulter in early July 1999.
19.2 At the meeting of 16th April at the Crown Office,
the family representatives had raised some points for further
investigation; and the Deputy Crown Agent wrote the same day
to the Regional Procurator Fiscal at Hamilton, Mr Brown, recording:
"The points of significance which arose at the meeting
were that the deceased's sister indicated that the accused
had been boasting that they had murdered the deceased. In
particular, it was suggested that one of the accused had made
such a claim to persons working in a carry out shop in Overtown.
I suggest that police are instructed to follow up these enquiries.
They also indicated that witnesses were frightened to speak
up about the Coulters but this may be something to do with
any reputation they have rather than particular threats. They
also suggested that Miss Bryce was worried about her safety
and it may be if it has not already been done, that Strathclyde
Police need to speak to her and see if she requires any of
their witness protection services."
19.3 Mr Brown set further enquiries in train. DI MacIver reported
to him on 5th May 1999 that the police had interviewed
people at fast food outlets in Overtown and that there was no
evidence that the accused had mentioned the murder in either
shop. It also reported that the police had interviewed Mrs Bryce
who had said that she had no concerns or fears for her safety.
Mr Brown reported this to the Crown Office on 11th
19.4 At the April meeting the Deputy Crown Agent had also given
an undertaking to the family to keep them informed about the
timing of the decision to be taken about the prosecution of
the other two accused. Mr Crowe saw to this personally, through
a series of letters to the family's solicitor, Ian Smart. He
told me -
"I was also writing to Ian Smart. I knew Ian Smart
from the past as I had worked on the Law Society Council with
him. I think he must have got in touch with me first to let
me know that he was acting for the Chhokar family ... It did
not occur to me to send letters to Mr and Mrs Chhokar
because they were so confused with the procedure. Mr Smart
was their solicitor."
19.5 He wrote to Mr Smart at regular intervals -
· on 14th May he wrote - "In the
light of Crown Counsel's consideration of the case papers additional
lines of enquiry have been instructed. I would expect to be
in a position to re-submit the papers ... by the middle of next
· and on 17th June - "the case
papers are at present being considered by Crown Counsel and
a decision is expected in the next few weeks"
· and finally on 2nd July - "I
can advise you that Crown Counsel have instructed that David
Montgomery and Andrew Coulter be indicted for the murder of
Surjit Singh Chhokar."
19.6 These letters were not copied to the Hamilton office.
There was of course no need to tell the Hamilton office about
the progress of the case, since they were themselves dealing
with it; but they were left to decide for themselves what communications
to make to the family, and they were left unaware of the communication
which was taking place between the Crown Office and the family
solicitor. The Regional Procurator Fiscal, Mr Brown, took it
on himself to write to Mr Chhokar, on 11th May to
say that a decision on prosecution was expected shortly, and
again on 14th May (the same day that the Deputy Crown
Agent was writing to the Chhokars' solicitor) to say that further
enquiries had been instructed and the decision would therefore
be delayed. At that point however Mr Brown dropped the correspondence,
on the assumption that Alan MacDonald, as the Procurator Fiscal
Depute dealing with the case, would handle family liaison. He
told me -
"...I had no further direct contact with the family.
Alan was responsible for liaison. He told me that he was in
touch with Aamer Anwar and I knew that the Deputy Crown Agent
had also met the family. It is extremely unusual for that
to happen. It is normally the person who is responsible for
the precognition who acts as the liaison point. Crown Office,
however, got involved and that involvement continued. There
was no point in me also getting involved. There was no formal
decision about who should take the liaison role. Crown Office
got involved because Aamer Anwar went to Crown Office and
got an audience with the Deputy Crown Agent.
I spoke to Alan MacDonald from time to time. I did not
get much feedback from Crown Office. Alan would keep me briefed.
I emphasised to him the importance of keeping the family advised.
I asked him for information from time to time.
It was unusual for this to happen and Crown Office's involvement
did, to a certain extent, make the liaison issue more complex.
It is normally the precognoscer's responsibility without any
liaison by Crown Office. I appreciate, however, why Crown
Office did get involved. There was no specific explanation
as to why continuing liaison by Crown Office was going to
19.7 Mr MacDonald however was not told any of this. He told
"I don't know whether contact was made with DI MacIver
in Motherwell. Most issues were dealt with at this stage by
the Regional Procurator Fiscal. ... Mrs Bryce's only
real complaint was regarding the amount of television coverage.
The only mention of her fearing for her safety was brought
up by the family. I thought it was strange that they would
bring it up. I don't know what the outcome was of the enquiry
into the accused boasting about the murder, you would need
to read the subject sheet. I don't know if anyone got back
to the family about that. I only know that the police didn't
manage to turn up anything. As of the 14 May 1999 my
involvement with the critical matters of the case was limited.
But I was meant to be the link with the second trial. I knew
of some specific things which I had to deal with. The Regional
Procurator Fiscal dealt with everything else."
19.8 Meantime, the Crown Office was assuming that the Hamilton
office would be keeping contact with the widow. When I asked
the Deputy Crown Agent whether he knew, when he met the deputation
on 16th April, who constituted the family, he told
me "Mr and Mrs Chhokar, the deceased's sister and also
his estranged wife" but he did not consider that it
was up to him to communicate with the widow - "I understand
that the Hamilton office was involved with the deceased's widow."
19.9 It is clear from this evidence that there was no co-ordination
at all of family liaison during this time. The Regional Procurator
Fiscal admitted as much to me: when I asked him how the channels
of communication were co-ordinated, he replied simply "It
19.10 The result was that, when the decision was taken to indict
the other two accused, the one person in the organisation who
might have informed Sanehdeep Chhokar of what was about to happen,
namely Alan MacDonald, had not even been told of it. My evidence
on this point came from the Deputy Crown Agent -
"The service of indictment is done by the Principal
Depute [at this time Jim Robertson] and not the Procurator
Fiscal Depute [Alan MacDonald], so Alan may not have known
about service of the indictment. A letter was, however, sent
to the Hamilton office at the end of June asking them to serve
the indictment on Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery. The
letter asks the Hamilton office to let us know when the indictment
has been served.
The Hamilton office knew of the indictment although they
did not get a copy of my letter to Ian Smart dated 2 July.
That letter was sent to Mr Smart as soon as we knew the indictment
had been served. The Hamilton office had lines of contact
with Mrs Chhokar and Mrs Bryce. I don't know if any steps
were taken to convey the information to the widow. A general
letter regarding the service of the indictment would have
gone from Crown Office to the Hamilton office."
19.11 The indictment was reported
in the press on Saturday 3rd July. On Monday 5th
July Mr MacDonald received a telephone call from Kate Duffy,
of PETAL on behalf of Sanehdeep Chhokar. His account is given
in his letter of 15th May 2000 to the Crown Agent
"David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter were Indicted at
the beginning of July 1999. As I understand the position,
that decision was intimated directly to them [sc. the parents]
by the Deputy Crown Agent. The decision was not intimated
to Mrs Chhokar (deceased's wife). Unfortunately, she heard
about the decision on television. On 5 July 1999 I received
a telephone call from Mrs Duffy on behalf of Mrs Chhokar who
had been upset to find out about the decision from the television.
I wrote to Mrs Chhokar on 9 July 1999 ... During the telephone
conversation of 5 July and a subsequent meeting with Mrs Duffy
and Mrs Chhokar I found out that the deceased's parents terminated
all contact with her and their grand-daughters, aged 14 and
12 years, shortly after the deceased's funeral."
19.12 Mrs Duffy's comment to me on this was -
"Actually it was Sandy's daughter who had put the
television on and had seen a picture of her father. She went
and told her mother and Sandy phoned me. She was extremely
upset and did not know what to do. She did not understand
what was being announced because of the shock of seeing Surjit's
picture on TV."
19.13 I have commented in an earlier chapter on the mistake
over the ages of the children, and on Mrs Duffy's emphatic statement
that Mr MacDonald had been told as early as February that Sanehdeep
was not on good terms with Surjit's parents.
19.14 This evidence speaks for itself. It is a sorry tale.
As with the earlier events, leading up to the trial and at the
trial itself, the picture is not of individual negligence or,
primarily, of institutional racism: this episode shows an organisation
failing to assimilate the information available to it about
a family, and failing to communicate within itself. As before,
there is no one individual to blame; but every individual involved
in these events, in the Crown Office and in the Procurator Fiscal's
Office at Hamilton, contributed to some extent to an organisational
From July 1999 to October 2000
19.15 The case against David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter
was originally indicted to the High Court sitting at Glasgow
commencing 16th August 1999. However the case was
repeatedly adjourned as a result of the devolution issues raised
and appeals which went ultimately to the Judicial Committee
of the Privy Council, and the trial did not begin until November
2000. The detail of these various proceedings is outlined in
Chapter 4 above.
19.16 After Mrs Duffy's telephone
call of 5th July Mr MacDonald wrote to her and separately
to Sanehdeep Chhokar, on 9th July. The letters were
properly apologetic and sympathetic, promised to ensure that
Mrs Chhokar would be contacted directly and kept advised of
any developments, and offered a meeting on 27th July.
Mr MacDonald also wrote on the same day to the Deputy Crown
Agent to inform him of what had happened and to tell him of
the situation within the family. It was arranged thereafter
that Crown Office would continue to deal with the Chhokar parents
and the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign, while the local Procurator
Fiscal's Office would provide the liaison with Sanehdeep Chhokar.
19.17 Mr MacDonald recorded this meeting in a letter of 31st
August 1999 to Mrs Burns, High Court Unit. I have discussed
the meeting and this letter with him and with Mrs Duffy. Although
there are some inaccuracies in the letter itself, I am satisfied
that the meeting covered Mrs Chhokar's isolation and the effect
of the rift between her and Surjit's parents. Mrs Chhokar expressed
some concern about Mr Anwar's involvement. In particular she
did not want media coverage of the case and was concerned about
the effect which it would have on her children. At this meeting
she also told Mr MacDonald that she was sure that the murder
was not racially motivated.
19.18 Meantime, within the Crown Office, responsibility for
the case passed to Mr Scott Pattison. He explained his role
to me -
"From June 1999 to August 2000 I was a Principal
Depute in the Crown Office Appeals Unit dealing solely with
devolution issues and human rights issues. During that year
I became operationally involved with the case of HMA v David
Montgomery and Andrew Coulter in my Appeals Unit capacity.
Devolution issue minutes were served by David Montgomery
and Andrew Coulter in early August 1999. These minutes were
passed to me in the Appeals Unit and I was responsible for
the preparation of the Crown arguments with the Advocate Depute,
Raymond Doherty QC. Numerous hearings took place before
Scottish judges and a hearing also took place at the Privy
Council in London. I was involved throughout in preparation
of the Crown arguments.
... preparation for preliminary diets normally takes place
in the High Court Unit in Crown Office. Preparation for the
hearings before Lord Abernethy on 26 August 1999
and Lord Kirkwood in September 1999 (which were preliminary
diets) was dealt with in the Appeals Unit simply because ECHR
was very new at that stage and it was felt appropriate that
I should deal with preparation of the arguments."
19.19 Mr Pattison described his relationship with the family
and the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign as follows -
"The parents and sister of the deceased together
with other friends and supporters and the campaign representative,
Mr Anwar, attended every day of every diet in this case.
When I saw that the Chhokar family and Mr Anwar were
present in court at the diet on 26 August 1999, I spoke
to them at lunchtime and after the conclusion of proceedings
that day. Thereafter I spoke to Mr Anwar and the family
before and after each day's proceedings at all diets in the
I did not know the family structure at that point. I was
either aware at that time or shortly thereafter that the widow
and Mrs Bryce existed.
The length of the conversations varied depending on which
stage the proceedings had reached. It was obvious that Mr and
Mrs Chhokar did not have a good command of English but
it was also obvious that Mr Anwar was conveying information
to the family and interpreting for them. Mr Anwar seemed
to understand what I was telling him. On occasion Mr Anwar
would interpret when I was present but I later asked Mr Anwar
if he was conveying the information to the family and I was
assured that he always conveyed the information to the family
after I had left to return to the office. I accept that I
do not know for a fact that he conveyed the information to
Mr and Mrs Chhokar.
I was not involved in the liaison with the deceased's
widow or with Mrs Bryce. I was simply involved in liaison
with the family members who attended at court. In my view
it was for the High Court Unit to advise the Procurator Fiscal
Depute at Hamilton who was involved in liaison with the other
members of the family and I felt I had discharged my responsibility
by advising the High Court Unit of the position.
It is fair to say that I developed a good relationship
with the Chhokar family and their representative. Mr Anwar
has commented on the liaison which took place during the devolution
issue and the ensuing appeals as `a model' of family liaison."
19.20 Throughout this period, from July 1999 to August 2000,
family liaison was on the whole well co-ordinated and maintained
effectively. While Mr Pattison kept in touch with Mr Chhokar
and his family, Mr MacDonald at the Procurator Fiscal's Office
in Hamilton kept in touch with Mrs Sanehdeep Chhokar and likewise
with Mrs Bryce. Communication with Sanehdeep Chhokar was, at
her request, mainly through Mrs Duffy of PETAL, and after November
1999 entirely so. Mr MacDonald explained -
"I stopped sending things to her because receiving
the letters and having the police call round at the house
with witness citations was getting upsetting."
19.21 In May 2000 Mr MacDonald wrote to Mrs Duffy -
"the last two Citations for Mrs Chhokar have been returned
by the Police unserved. I should be grateful if you would
confirm that she is still at the same address. It occurs to
me that Mrs Chhokar can be told when the case is due to call
and her Citation could be collected from this office or from
you. This would mean that police officers do not need to go
to her house if she finds this upsetting."
and this offer was gratefully accepted.
19.22 Even so, co-ordination was still sometimes imperfect.
Mr MacDonald told me -
"There was a meeting on 19 March and one was
arranged for Mrs Chhokar on 20 March, but that was
cancelled. I don't know if there was a subsequent meeting
arranged with Sandy. The Deputy Crown Agent met with the family
and Mr Chhokar's sister on 16 April. It had not
been explicitly said to me that Crown Office had taken over
the family liaison issue, but I assumed from what was going
on that they were doing it. But some of it was still down
to me. I was aware that the other two accused were to be indicted.
I knew that as I had done the precognition, but I wasn't asked
to tell the family. I prepared the precognition, but nobody
told me to make the family aware of this. I don't know whether
the Crown Office were going to advise the family, it just
kind of happened. That may have been why Sandy Chhokar found
out the information from the television. I had to apologise
to Sandy Chhokar about that again. I suppose Crown Office
should have done that, but I thought it was just part of my
job, although it may have been better for someone senior to
do it. It may have been better to come from someone at the
top. I don't know why that is, I told Crown Office of that,
I just thought the appropriate thing for me to do was to write
to people. I didn't know what Crown Office would do with that
information. I don't know whether anyone else would have contacted
19.23 Mr Pattison's role in family liaison continued until
the hearing at the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC).
Mr Anwar had continued to act as interpreter up to this point,
but Mr Pattison suggested that it would be helpful to the family
if an interpreter were provided for them at that hearing, and
that was agreed. After the hearing Mr Pattison handed over his
responsibility to Mr Crowe, the Deputy Crown Agent. Mr Crowe
explained it thus -
"After the JCPC hearing the liaison role came back
to myself and Susan Burns. Scott Pattison dropped out for
two reasons - he was transferred to the Policy Group
and the case was no longer an appeal but went back to being
a trial. A difficulty then arose in that the Privy Council
decided to issue the written reasons for their decision later.
This was during the holiday period and it became apparent
that we might not get the written judgment until October.
We then heard that the trial could not be held until the written
judgment was received. During that phase I was involved in
telling the family what was happening. Mrs Bryce and the widow
were not interested in the minutiae but Aamer Anwar and Mr
Chhokar were interested in every detail."
19.24 Mr Anwar continued to act as interpreter until the hearing
at the Privy Council, before which Mr Pattison suggested that
an interpreter might be helpful and Mr Anwar and the family
members agreed. Thereafter the Crown Office accepted that they
should be responsible for providing interpreters, and gave close
attention to that matter. Mr Crowe told me -
"Scott gave me the name of the Alpha Interpreting
Services. I saw it as my job to get interpreters for the trial.
Alan was invited to the meeting with the interpreters as he
was to be the liaison person at the trial.
I met with the family and Mr Anwar on 10 October and the
family were introduced to the interpreter, Mr Aziz. It was
explained at this meeting to Mr Anwar and the Chhokar family
that Mr MacDonald would make himself available at the beginning
and end of each day of the trial to keep them advised of proceedings.
This was also explained to Mr Aziz."
19.25 The picture which this gives is of an organisation making
a significant and successful effort to ensure that the family
(and Mrs Bryce) were kept informed of the progress of the case.
The liaison during this period was comprehensive, generally
(though not always) well co-ordinated, and tailored to the differing
requirements of the parents, Sanehdeep and Mrs Bryce. It seems
to have been accepted as satisfactory by all of them.
20. PREPARATIONS FOR THE SECOND
This chapter deals with the preparations for the second trial
(HMA v David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter).
The Law Officers
20.1 The Law Officers took a personal interest in the arrangements
for family liaison at the trial of David Montgomery and Andrew
Coulter. The Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, told me that it was
one of his first priorities on taking office -
"I was appointed Lord Advocate in February 2000.
In March of that year I was in the United States and in April
I was at Camp Zeist. The main focus of my work at that time
was the Lockerbie21
case. I started the Lockerbie trial and then came back to
Crown Office in May 2000. I indicated that I wanted a meeting
to discuss the Chhokar case. I took the view that I had to
get up to speed with the case and also that I would be the
one who would have to deal with the fall out of the case.
I believed that the Chhokar case would cause more difficulties
than the Lockerbie case."
20.2 As noted in chapter 4 above,
the trial had to be several times postponed, since the High
Court had ruled that it should not proceed until the written
judgment from the Privy Council became available. The Crown
Office was expecting to receive it in mid-October (in fact it
was received on 19th October), and in anticipation
of that the Deputy Crown Agent, Mr Crowe, wrote on 2nd
October to the Regional Procurator Fiscal at Hamilton, Mr Brown,
to make him aware of the interest taken by Ministers and of
the arrangements to be made. The text of his letter was as follows
"This case is likely to be adjourned on defence motion
on 5 October to the sitting commencing at Glasgow on 23 October.
I enclose a copy of a recent letter received from the Judicial
Committee of the Privy Council. As you know, the High Court
in Scotland has ruled that trial cannot commence until JCPC's
written judgement is available. It was hoped that this would
be available in the first week of October so that the
case could proceed in the 9 October Glasgow sitting.
The Law Officers are anxious for the case to be under way,
if not concluded, before the second anniversary of Mr Chhokar's
death on 4 November 1998.
I am making arrangements to have an interpreter present at
the trial for the Chhokar family. It is envisaged that the
interpreter would sit with the Chhokars on the public benches
and keep them up to speed on events progressing in
The Law Officers are anxious that there should be full support
from your office at this trial and I understand that Alan
MacDonald, the precognoscer, is likely to be present for the
duration of the trial. The Crown Agent has suggested that
Mr MacDonald should visit the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist
to see how the relatives are dealt with there. Having visited
the court myself, I can see advantages in the Depute Fiscal
assigned to the case meeting the relatives briefly after each
day to make sure they understood the proceedings and to give
them some idea in general terms of what witnesses are likely
to be dealt with the following day.
It would be helpful therefore if you could make arrangements
for Mr MacDonald to visit the Lockerbie trial and make contact
with Ann den Beiman and her team who deal with the Lockerbie
next of kin.
I hope to arrange a meeting with the family and prospective
interpreters for the afternoon on Monday 9 October and would
hope to arrange that we could meet at a central location in
Glasgow in the late afternoon. Would Mr MacDonald be available
for such a meeting?"
Meeting with the family
20.3 On 9th October Mr Crowe and Mr MacDonald met
Mr and Mrs Chhokar, Mrs Sengha and Mr Anwar to introduce them
to Mr Aziz, who had been recommended to the Crown Office as
an interpreter. Mr Crowe's account to me was -
"I met with the family and Mr Anwar on 9 October
and the family were introduced to the interpreter, Mr Aziz.
It was explained at this meeting to Mr Anwar and the Chhokar
family that Mr MacDonald would make himself available at the
beginning and end of each day of the trial to keep them advised
of proceedings. This was also explained to Mr Aziz ...
I made it clear at the meeting that the interpreters were
not our interpreters but were there to facilitate the family."
20.4 Mr Aziz also gave me his account of the meeting -
"The meeting was to clarify my qualifications. Mr
Aamer Anwar was at the meeting and it was him who wanted to
clarify my qualifications.
I have never had my qualifications checked before. I was
asked to give my CV to Mr Khan of Alpha Interpreting Services
to allow it to be faxed to Mr Anwar. This was unusual.
... Mr Anwar wanted to make sure that I had the right
qualifications. He wanted the meeting but he already had a
copy of my CV ... During the meeting Mr Chhokar did not test
my capacity to act as interpreter. I did not find the meeting
embarrassing, although it was unusual."
20.5 It is not clear from the evidence
given to me whether anything explicit was said at the meeting
as to whether the interpreter would be present at the meetings
between Mr MacDonald and the family at the end of each day's
proceedings in court. Mr Crowe thought not: he told me - "There
was no discussion ... about Mr Aziz not being involved in these
briefing sessions. That came about later." Mr Aziz
had a different recollection: he said to me - "On 9
October 2000 it was made clear to me that I was only to interpret
in court and that Mr Anwar would interpret for Mr Chhokar out
of the court." At any rate, when the time came, the
interpreter was excluded from those meetings and Mr Anwar insisted
on acting as interpreter. I have commented earlier on Mr Anwar
as interpreter; and I shall return to this point again, in the
context of what happened at the trial.
20.6 Although this was the main business of the meeting Mr
Crowe took the opportunity to discuss with the family the timing
of the trial. He recorded this, and the family's point of view,
the next day in an internal Crown Office minute, part of which
runs as follows -
`I noticed that Mr Chokkar was in a visibly poorer
condition than when I met him last year. He now walks
with a stick and is apparently taking medication. He and his
wife were very upset about the delays in bringing the matter
I indicated that I was doing everything in my power to bring
the matter to trial as soon as possible and said that the
latest information which we have is that the JCPC judgement
is likely to be available in the week commencing 23 October.
I indicated that the trial was scheduled for that sitting
although the earliest it could start would probably be later
that week or perhaps the week commencing 30 October. I indicated
that I was aware that 4 November was the second anniversary
of Surgit Singh Chokkar's death and indicated our wish that
the trial should be under way before then if possible.
The Chokkars confirmed that they would be holding a remembrance
service for their son on the weekend of 4 and 5 November
and Mr Anwar advised that one or two trusted members of the
press would be in attendance but he appreciated that publicity
at this time might give the defence an opportunity to adjourn
the case further.
After some discussion it became apparent that while Mr and
Mrs Chokkar were anxious for the trial to proceed as soon
as possible they wished to have a definite date to work towards.
I explained that I was in the hands of the JCPC and thereafter
20.7 On the same day Mr Crowe wrote to Mr Smart, the Chhokar
family solicitor, to record the outcome of the meeting with
the family, namely: that Mr Aziz seemed to satisfy the family
of his credentials and that Mr Crowe would be arranging for
him to attend through the trial and that he (Mr Crowe) was arranging
back-up interpreters. He confirmed that Mr MacDonald would be
making himself available at the end of each day's evidence to
answer questions which Mr and Mrs Chhokar might have and to
give an indication of the areas of evidence likely to be covered
the next day. He recorded his undertaking given at the meeting
that he would pursue the option of having the case adjourned
until the 6th November sitting.
20.8 On 20th October Mr Crowe wrote again to Mr
Smart, and also to Mr Anwar, sending each a copy of the JCPC
decision and saying that it was hoped that the case would now
proceed at the 6th November sitting of the High Court
in Glasgow. He explained to me why he was writing to both -
"Some of this was a belt and braces approach to ensure
that Mr and Mrs Chhokar got the information. The letters to
Ian Smart were an extra which I did. I do not think by writing
to him that I was causing any confusion. I spoke to Ian Smart
...and got the impression that while he was a conduit for
information, Aamer Anwar was more involved with the case."
20.9 Mr Crowe also wrote to Mr Aziz to send him a copy of the
trial charges and some background to the case including a reference
to Mr and Mrs Chhokar having watched the first trial and having
found the `whole circumstances confusing and disturbing, not
unnaturally'. Further arrangements for interpreters were handled
by Mrs Burns, of the High Court Unit at Crown Office: a female
interpreter and a reserve interpreter (Ms Gufoor and Mr Makar)
were engaged; briefing notes about the case were sent to each;
and a meeting between them and the family was held in early
November, to ensure that the family were content with them,
before the day when the trial began.
20.10 These careful and elaborate arrangements for interpreters
were without precedent. Also without precedent was the fact
that Crown Office paid for the service, which was provided specifically
for the benefit of the family sitting in the public benches.
Mr Crowe's comments to me on all this were -
"The idea of paying for interpreters to assist people
in the public benches would have been unheard of 5-10 years
ago. I sometimes question whether we had the authority to
do that. We took the decision, however, that it was right
and it was at no inconsiderable expense. It is a measure of
how far we have gone in recent years. Even if we had identified
Mr and Mrs Chhokar's needs at the first trial, the best
we could have done was to try to explain the procedures to
them using what friends they had who could speak English.
No one would have authorised providing an interpreter - that
was not within the rules.
I had received an instruction from the Solicitor General
and therefore had authority to get an interpreter for the
family albeit it wasn't perhaps strictly within the rules.
We were also concerned about the difficulties an interpreter
for the family may cause in court with noise levels and distractions.
It was decided to let the family meet the interpreter
prior to the trial - that was a lesson we had learned from
the JCPC hearing."
20.11 On 16th October Mr Crowe wrote to Dr David
Griffiths, Assistant Procurator Fiscal and Head of High Court
Unit, Glasgow. The High Court Unit is responsible for the efficient
management of the business of the High Court sitting in Glasgow,
and gives some assistance at court on cases from outside Glasgow
to their colleagues from the local office. Mr Crowe told Dr
· it was hoped that the trial would be held in
the 6th November sitting;
· Mr Aziz would be interpreting and that arrangements
would need to be made for him to sit with Mr and Mrs Chhokar
and provide a simultaneous translation; and
· Mr MacDonald would be liaising with the family
and would meet them at the end of the day to explain the day's
proceedings and to give an indication of what was likely to
be covered the next day.
20.12 In the letter Mr Crowe also stressed that the Law Officers
were keen that the matter should proceed as smoothly as possible,
and that he would require to keep them advised of any significant
developments. He briefed Dr Griffiths on the family relationships,
with Sanehdeep Chhokar and Elizabeth Bryce, stating that the
parents had no dealings with either of them; and pointing out
that Mr MacDonald maintained contact with them. He advised Dr
Griffiths that Mr Anwar would probably be in attendance also.
20.13 Dr Griffiths replied on 18th October, saying
that he would be on leave in the week beginning 6th
November and that he would ensure that whoever covered for him
was aware of the issues in the case. It was arranged at the
beginning of November that Mr George Macleod would fill this
role. Dr Griffiths also spoke to Mr Norman Dowie, Court Manager
of the High Court in Glasgow, and Inspector Haggarty of Strathclyde
Police about the logistics of the trial, and arranged that Mr
Dowie would take personal charge of the arrangements within
the court building.
20.14 Meantime Mr MacDonald was also in touch with Mr Dowie
about accommodation for the family. He had spoken to Mrs Duffy,
Sanehdeep Chhokar's representative, on the telephone, and was
also aware of the need to arrange a private secure room for
members of the Chhokar family.
20.15 The Crown Office also gave particular care to publicity
arrangements. A full brief on the whole case was prepared by
their press office and submitted to Ministers for approval.
The head of the press office, Howard Hart, had a meeting with
Dr Griffiths at the High Court in Glasgow, to be shown the buildings
and to meet key members of staff. Mr Crowe also took steps to
ensure that media briefing was co-ordinated with the press officers
of the police. He wrote on 20th October to Superintendent
Ian Gordon, Media and Information officer at Strathclyde Police
as follows -
`The Coulter and Montgomery case is better known as the Chhokar
case and is scheduled to proceed at the sitting of the High
Court at Glasgow on 6 November.
I expect a great deal of media attention to this case and
to that end we have drawn up a media strategy and lines to
I would appreciate a brief chat with you in order that I
can put your designated press officer on to Howard Hart, our
press officer, to discuss and clear the lines we will take
in this case.
As I see it, the main criticism will fall on the Crown in
this matter but 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.
On occasions in the past the Chhokar case has been said to
be the Scottish Stephen Lawrence case but I do not think the
parallels are there. This is a matter which requires delicate
but firm handling, so that any criticisms are directed to
areas for improvement. I wish to be sure that no inaccurate
allegations are made by critics and to that end we have a
chronology of what took place in the case to rebut any unwarranted
20.16 There are several points which should be noted on the
arrangements up to this point -
· Ministers took a close interest. They recognised
that mistakes had been made in family liaison at the first
trial, and were determined to show that lessons had been learned.
They were well aware of the public profile and political implications
of the case after the first trial.
· Very senior officials, both in Crown Office
and in the Procurator Fiscal's Office at Glasgow, took a direct
involvement in the preparations for the trial, and a close
interest in family liaison, as they were bound to do, given
the level of ministerial interest.
· The close attention given to publicity arrangements
- including co-ordination with the police press office - also
was a reflection of ministerial interest.
· Arrangements for interpreters were well thought
out and executed: interpreters of both sexes were provided,
and a reserve interpreter was on stand-by; the interpreters
were given a general briefing on the case to prepare them;
and they were introduced to the family, so that the family
could confirm that they were content to work with them.
· Matters which were important to the family
were recorded, in the letters to their solicitor and to Mr
· The officer who would have the chief responsibility
on the day (Mr MacDonald) was appropriately prepared for his
role, by being sent to see a model of liaison in action at
· The Deputy Crown Agent, who took charge of
the operation, also showed a personal concern and human sympathy
for the family and their welfare. This is the essence of family
· Relationships within the family were well understood,
and arrangements tailored accordingly. These elaborate preparations
were a response to the fact that the Chhokar parents were
associated with a public campaign; but at the same time appropriate
contact was maintained with Surjit's widow, Sanehdeep, who
distanced herself from the campaign.
A possible demonstration
20.17 On 30th October Mr Crowe recorded the following
note on the Crown Office file -
`I spoke to Amar Anwar this afternoon by telephone.
I indicated to him that we had heard rumours that there was
to be a demonstration by the Chhokar Family Justice Campaign
at the start of the trial. He assured me that this was not
the case and quoted from a note which he was passing around
the family and close supporters that there should be no placards,
chants or the handing out of campaign material. He did indicate
that there would be a number of supporters at the trial but
had called for discipline. Similarly, he reiterated that at
the memorial service scheduled to take place this Saturday
for Surjit Singh Chhokar three "trusted" journalists
would be attending. I reiterated to Mr Anwar that they should
not publish any articles on the eve of the trial since it
was crucial there should be no media coverage of the case
prior to the jury being empanelled. Mr Anwar assured me that
he trusted the journalist concerned.
I made it clear to Mr Anwar that I was in no way trying to
restrict the freedom of speech but indicated to him that I
was anxious that the case should proceed to trial on the due
date and that there should be no opportunity for the defence
to delay matters or cause difficulties due to unfortunate
publicity or demonstrations that might be seen by unempanelled
20.18 Mr Crowe passed this information on to Len Higson, Regional
Procurator Fiscal at Glasgow, in these terms -
`I have spoken to A Anwar who assures me no demonstration
is planned and a leaflet is going out to supporters warning
them to be on their best behaviour. Other representations
are being made to Mr Anwar warning him that the Crown will
be in difficulties if unempanelled jurors are met with a demonstration.
As far as I can gather no demonstration is planned but large
numbers of supporters are likely to turn up and this would
have logistical problems. The Court will not be able to accommodate
every one and I imagine a number of people will end up in
the street outside. Are the Police and Courts ready for this?'
20.19 This message was forwarded to Dr Griffiths who responded
`I have spoken to Norman Dowie and rather more briefly to
Insp Haggarty. Norman will take personal charge of things
within the building. In accordance with normal practice supporters
will not be allowed into the actual courtroom until the jury
has been empannelled. There is a relatively large unused room
on the first floor where people can wait before being allowed
in. Thereafter the number of people who can get in will be
constrained by the size of the room. Norman will be holding
a meeting with his staff and will emphasis to them that they
have to treat supporters with courtesy but, if need be, firmness.
There is much other business going on elsewhere in the building
which cannot be disrupted and counsel for Montgomery and Coulter
will leap on any perceived inappropriate behaviour.'
20.20 The response was passed back to Mr Crowe, who commented
`Have made contact with A. Anwar.
I told him Court space was limited and supporters would have
to wait in a separate room while the jury is empannelled.
He said he thought numbers would be no more than 50 and perhaps
nearer 20-30. There would be some Councillors and Trade Unionists.
He has clearly let all Chhokar Family Justice contacts know
of the date but does not expect a huge turn-out.'
20.21 This episode demonstrates, more clearly than any of the
previous encounters, the incompatibility of the roles which
Mr Anwar was undertaking, as a campaigner on the one hand, and
as a representative of the family on the other. It had been
pointed out to him more than once previously that publicity
could jeopardise the trial, and thus defeat the ends of the
campaign itself. More to the point, so far as this Inquiry is
concerned, if inept publicity had derailed the legal process
it would have worked exactly against the interests of the Chhokar
21. THE SECOND TRIAL: FIRST WEEK
This chapter deals with family liaison and dealings with the
Chhokar Family Justice Campaign during the first week of the
trial of David Montgomery and Andrew Coulter. There were few
proceedings in court during this week, but much activity generated
by the demands of Mr Anwar in his dual role of family adviser
Note: in tracing the course of events covered by this and the
next chapter I have been able to draw on the notes and recollections
of several witnesses, in particular Messrs Aziz, Crowe, Dowie,
Griffiths, MacDonald, Macleod and Pattison, as well as the Advocate
Depute, Mr Murphy and the trial judge, Lord Bonomy. It has thus
been possible to assemble a much more complete account of events
for this trial than for the first trial.
The first day: provision for the family and supporters
21.1 The trial was due to start on 6th November,
and on that morning Mr MacDonald met Mr and Mrs Chhokar on their
arrival at court, and showed them to a secure Witness Room which
had been set aside for the sole use of the family for the duration
of the trial. The Court layout and the involvement of prosecution
and defence were explained to them. Another room was set aside
for supporters. Norman Dowie, the Court Manager, High Court
of Justiciary, Glasgow gave me this account of how the Chhokar
family and their supporters were provided for -
"Some time during the week before the trial, I was
approached by Alan MacDonald. He said that he wanted to make
some special arrangements for the accommodation of the family
of the deceased. He explained that he wanted a room for the
Chhokar family which was basically a protected room. We had
identified the North Court as appropriate for this trial.
Behind the South Court there is a protected area and there
is a protected witness room there. It is a suite with couches,
en-suite toilet, table and telephone. I showed this room to
Alan and he was keen that the family were given this room.
... The trial was due to start on Monday 6 November
2000. ... A number of things happened that morning.
I met the Chhokar family. I remember an older gentleman
with a beard. I also remember meeting the mother of the deceased.
We took the Chhokar family into the protected room. I think
it was the mother and father, the daughter and another man.
We took them into the secure area before 10 o'clock.
I had been in touch with the restaurant about arranging tea
and coffee at the request of Mr MacDonald.
Alan MacDonald was the principal liaison for the family.
I was simply the facilitator.
Mr Anwar was with two groups that morning. He
was moving between the family and a group of approximately
20-30 supporters. In relation to the peripheral family
and the supporters, I had already made arrangements and had
spoken to Mr Anwar in the morning about that. We had
unempanelled jurors coming into the Court and the protocol
is that unempanelled jurors do not mix with members of the
public. I had made arrangements for the extended family and
supporters to use another room. I explained to them that once
the jury had been empanelled, they would be invited up into
the Court room.
The reason for doing that was to keep the supporters and
the family away from unempanelled jurors. There are potential
50 unempanelled jurors for each Court and there are five Courts.
Generally about 35 jurors will turn up and there were,
potentially 35 unempanelled jurors for the Court in which
the Chhokar trial was due to commence. There is a potential
hazard if you have either witnesses or a member of the public
who know and have information about the case being in the
public area and starting a conversation about the case with
a potential juror. There is a possibility of contamination
of a potential juror.
Mr Anwar understood this. I spoke to him about it.
I also explained that the supporters could use the restaurant
area but they would have to be careful about who they mixed
with. I spent some time discussing this with Mr Anwar,
approximately 5 minutes.
We are not used to dealing with a large number of people
at the beginning of a trial. Large numbers of people often
come towards the end of a trial. There is always a concern
when there is a large number of people in a small area."
21.2 In my view these arrangements were appropriate and satisfactory.
The authorities at the High Court had to accommodate some unusual
features of this case, and they did so.
Missing witnesses: the trial postponed
21.3 In the event the trial could not start due to the absence
of one of the accused, Andrew Coulter, and two Crown witnesses
(Alexandra Tierney and Ronnie Coulter) who had produced soul
and conscience certificates22.
Sean Murphy, the Advocate Depute at this trial, told me -
"One of the accused had not been brought from prison
and I had to instruct police officers to go to the prison
and get Andrew Coulter as the prison did not have staff to
bring him. There were issues about the press and soul and
conscience certificate issues for certain of the witnesses."
21.4 The judge (Lord Bonomy) accepted the reasons which were
given for Andrew Coulter's absence; and the case was adjourned
to 8th November to allow further enquiries to be
made into the health of the two witnesses.
21.5 This information was given to Mr Anwar and the family,
and they did not challenge it. However, Mr Anwar later made
an issue of it in the press.23
Mr MacDonald's account of this to me was as follows -
"Aamer Anwar had to be satisfied regarding the absence
of Andrew Coulter - if the judge was satisfied then I assumed
that everyone else would be. I thought this had been satisfactorily
addressed. Lord Bonomy was satisfied and so was Aamer
Anwar at that time. Mr Anwar later raised the point in
the newspapers and asked why Andrew Coulter had not been there.
I didn't have an explanation at the time, as he had not been
ordered out. I didn't know who should have ordered him out.
I thought at the time that Aamer Anwar was satisfied; we couldn't
have started anyway, as others were not there. When Aamer
Anwar later raised this issue in the public domain I was surprised
and disappointed. I could explain things until I was blue
in the face but it was never enough. I didn't hear anything
about the matter between the first day and the newspaper articles.
Aamer Anwar approached me to find out why two witnesses could
not turn up. Mr Anwar wanted to know who they were and why
they were not there. I had instructions from the Advocate
Depute regarding what I could say. He seemed satisfied, but
he was dubious regarding why. I was apprehensive, I knew I
had to be careful in case this was turned back on me at some
point in the media."
21.6 This dialogue did not seem significant at the time: it
became significant afterwards, when Mr Anwar made an issue of
it in the press. Mr MacDonald's comment reflects his growing
unease as Mr Anwar used his standing as representative of the
family to further his aims as a campaigner. This generated a
distrust which impeded communication with the family.
A misunderstanding with Security
21.7 Two further incidents occurred that day which are significant
for this Inquiry. The first is described by Mr Dowie in these
"When the case called, one security man went to the
room where the supporters were and brought them to the area
outside the courtroom. This was prior to the jury being empanelled.
I did not know that the security guard had done that. I saw
the supporters and said to Mr Anwar that the jury had
not been empanelled yet. He got quite indignant and said that
the security guard had told them to move towards the Court.
Mr Anwar was indignant, perhaps justifiably. ... People
were upset and were emotional. I was aware of that. I was
annoyed with the security guard. Once I had discovered that
had happened, I apologised to Mr Anwar and to the girl
who was with him. The group then went back to the room."
21.8 This needs little comment. The security guard was out
of order; people were upset; and the management, quite properly,
21.9 The defence raised with the
judge the fact that outside the court supporters of the family
were wearing ribbons. The judge required that they be removed.
It was explained to the family that wearing the ribbons could
constitute contempt of court. Mr MacDonald gave me this account
and comment on the incident -
"Outside court the supporters were wearing ribbons.
Mr Chhokar was annoyed when they were told they had to
be removed. It could be contempt of court if they didn't remove
them. Mr Chhokar was annoyed because his son had been killed.
I did not know that Aamer Anwar had spoken to the Deputy Crown
Agent about the court proceedings not being affected. The
judge made a comment about the fact that the ribbons needed
to be taken off. By the time I got out to deal with it, word
had got round and people were taking the ribbons off before
I got there. It was the defence who raised the issue before
the judge. The jury were not in the room at the time, they
were in another part of the building altogether. It could
change the whole proceedings. The ribbons issue was not a
good start to the family liaison, particularly as it upset
21.10 As I have noted in the preceding chapter, the Deputy
Crown Agent had already advised Mr Anwar that `there should
be no opportunity for the defence to delay matters or cause
difficulties due to unfortunate publicity or demonstrations
that might be seen by unempanelled jurors.' Mr Anwar professed
to have heeded this warning, but he evidently did not succeed
in impressing the weight of it on the campaign supporters. Not
only did this incident give the defence a point to seize upon;
it also caused distress to Mr Chhokar. I do not know whether
Mr Chhokar had the significance of the matter explained to him,
or if he did, whether he understood it; but I conclude that
he was badly advised by Mr Anwar in this instance, to the detriment
of his relationship with the officials.
The second day: Tuesday 7th November
21.11 On the next day Mr MacDonald telephoned Mr Anwar and
explained that the information about the witnesses would not
be available until Wednesday lunchtime and therefore nothing
would happen in court the next day. Therefore, there would be
no point in the relatives attending. On being asked, Mr Anwar
stated that Mr and Mrs Chhokar were happy with the arrangements
made for them and the support given.
Mr Chhokar as a witness: Tuesday 7th to Friday
21.12 Later in the same day Mr Anwar called on Mr MacDonald
and asked him a number of questions about the trial, in particular
when Mr Chhokar and Ronnie Coulter would give evidence. Mr Anwar
said he was under the impression that the Deputy Crown Agent
had given him an assurance that Mr Chhokar would give evidence
and that this would be done at the start of the case. Mr MacDonald
explained that the tactics and running order were a matter solely
for the Advocate Depute (Mr Murphy) but undertook to discuss
the matter with him.
21.13 I have taken evidence on this matter from several of
those involved. I shall set it out at length -
Mr MacDonald -
"[at] 3:50pm I left a message for PETAL. [as
he did each day - this would be for the benefit of Sanehdeep
Chhokar] I also saw Aamer Anwar in the afternoon.
... Aamer Anwar said that the Deputy Crown Agent had told
him that Mr Chhokar would be giving evidence early and
therefore I was not to speak to Mr Chhokar again about
it. Mr Anwar also wanted a running order, so that he
would know when Ronnie Coulter would give evidence. I didn't
know when this would be, but it would possibly be later on
in the week. Mr Anwar asked me why the case was continued
until Friday, rather than Thursday.
I expressed my concerns to the Advocate Depute that Aamer
Anwar was too intrusive. I also called the Deputy Crown Agent
to express my concern and clarify matters. I also phoned Elizabeth Bryce
to explain what had happened at the High Court. It was then
that Sean Murphy asked me to start taking minutes. It was
difficult for me to perform my role as Fiscal Depute in relation
to Mr Chhokar as a witness, if I was not able to speak
to him. I was being told bluntly to keep away from Mr Chhokar.
...[On 9th November] I had received
instructions from the Advocate Depute in relation to consulting
with Mr Chhokar and precognoscing him with no one else
My instructions in relation to Mr Chhokar Snr were
that I was to take his precognition with no one present. I
was to ask him several things, (1) general background
information, (2) about the identification of the body,
(3) confirm when Mr Chhokar had separated from his
wife, (4) confirm when Mr Chhokar Snr had last had
contact with his son, (5) find out how often Mr Chhokar
Snr was in contact with his son, (6) find out the full
extent of the family, (7) confirm the sort of contact
Mr and Mrs Chhokar Snr had with Mrs Chhokar
Jnr and Elizabeth Bryce, (8) find out the nature of the
break-up between Mr and Mrs Chhokar, (9) the
circumstances in which the deceased met Mrs Bryce, (10) further
background information, such as, if Mr Chhokar was called
to give evidence, what he would be likely to be asked and
in what context. I knew that on Friday it was likely to be
background evidence only and therefore unlikely to be necessary
for Mr Chhokar to be called.
... I took the statement in a separate room. There was
only myself, Mr Aziz and Mr Chhokar there. Everyone
understood what was going on, Aamer Anwar did not try to argue
about it. I am not sure what his reaction to it was. Mr Chhokar
did not say that he was unwilling to give evidence, we talked
about it via the interpreter. He said that he didn't really
want to give evidence, but that he would do so if the Crown
thought it was something he should do. I don't know whether
he thought that he had to give evidence, this became an area
that he was unwilling to talk about without Aamer Anwar being
present. He seemed uncomfortable and I formed the impression
that he was apprehensive of doing something that Aamer Anwar
might not agree with.
... [on 10th November] Mr Anwar
did not seem content to leave the running order of the case
to the Advocate Depute. He was saying that Mr Chhokar
would give evidence and was detailing what it would be about.
He didn't want Mr Chhokar still to be waiting to give
evidence by the following Tuesday or Thursday. Aamer Anwar
was saying that Mr Chhokar was only to be asked about the
identity of the deceased."
Mr Aziz (the interpreter) -
"I do remember a statement being taken from Mr Chhokar
by Alan MacDonald. Mr Chhokar indicated that he was not willing
to give evidence. Mr Anwar wanted to put Mr Chhokar in the
witness box but Mr Chhokar indicated to Mr MacDonald that
he did not want to give evidence.
Alan asked me to help him in taking a statement from Mr
Chhokar. Towards the end of this interview, Mr Chhokar said
to me something like, `They are asking me to give evidence
but in fact I never saw anything. I was in bed, the police
came to my house and told me that my son was dead. They took
me to the hospital to identify the body. If it is not going
to make any difference to any evidence, then why should I
I then explained to Alan that Mr Chhokar did not want
to give evidence. Alan never asked Mr Chhokar to give evidence
or not to give evidence. Mr Chhokar was not surprised that
he may have to give evidence.
I was not left in any doubt that Mr Chhokar did not want
to give evidence. He made it clear to me.
When we came back to the room the rest of the family were
there along with Mr Anwar. I always spoke to Mr Anwar in English.
I said to Mr Anwar, in English, that Mr Chhokar had said he
did not want to give evidence. Mr Anwar was not happy. He
was visibly unhappy. You could tell by his face. He did not
raise his voice. I think he did use the word `fuck' as well
but I'm not sure.
Mr Anwar said to Mr Chhokar, `I did tell you that you
were to give evidence. Why did you say that you didn't want
to give evidence?'
Mr Anwar did not say in my presence that Mr Chhokar did
not understand the word `witness'. I do not know if Mr Anwar
later spoke to Alan.
No other family member was insisting that Mr Chhokar gave
evidence. Mrs Chhokar was in favour that Mr Chhokar did not
give evidence. Mrs Chhokar said, in Punjabi, `That's a good
thing. It's just as well. He did not want to give his evidence
in this case anyway'."
Mr Crowe said, in relation to Mr Anwar's statement
that he had given him an assurance that Mr Chhokar would give
"No, that is not correct. I could not give that assurance
and I explained to Mr Anwar that it was a matter for Crown
Counsel. I said I understood his position and would pass that
information on to Crown Counsel. I did sympathise with Mr
Chhokar and I said I would report the matter to Crown Counsel
for their decision. It is not within our power to excuse a
witness from the High Court."
Mr Murphy (Advocate Depute) -
"At a very early stage there was a communication
from Aamer Anwar via Alan MacDonald to me relating to talk
of Mr Chhokar's right to give evidence. No witness has a right
to give evidence, that is a matter for the trial Advocate
Depute. Mr Anwar had made a specific request that Mr Chhokar
give evidence about identification of the body and nothing
else. That worried me because I can have no control over the
defence line of questioning. I was aware that there was ill
feeling between Mrs Bryce and the deceased's father and I
did not know if the defence would play on that. The nature
of the comment by Aamer Anwar was that Mr Chhokar would only
like to give evidence about the point of identification. I
asked myself the question, 'what does he know that I don't?'
because that request caused me concern.
I also knew that it was likely to be a tough, no-holds
barred trial by the defence. Subsequently, the defence did
seek to bring out evidence of an assault by the deceased on
Mrs Bryce. Mr Chhokar might have had information about that.
Following this, I sent Alan MacDonald down to reprecognosce
Mr Chhokar on the relationships involved. Alan came back and
read the notes of the precognition to me.
... I said to Alan MacDonald to ask Mr Chhokar at the
end of the precognition exercise his views about giving evidence.
That was not the main purpose of the exercise but I have done
that in previous cases. Alan read me the notes of the precognition
and I recall these included that there was no contact between
the father and Mrs Bryce and that the father blamed her for
the break-up of his son's marriage. He had also said that
he was not particularly keen to speak in court but if I considered
it important for the Crown case then he would do so. On the
basis of the information contained in the precognition I decided
to discharge Mr Chhokar. Alan MacDonald would then have to
go back and tell Mr Chhokar he would not be required as a
witness. This would allow him to sit through the whole trial...
I was also concerned that in legal terms Mr Chhokar was
not necessary as a witness. It might have been perceived by
the defence as seeking a sympathy vote because the evidence
was thin. I have no doubt that would have been said by the
There was a difficulty the next morning. There had been
some representation by Aamer Anwar to Alan to me that Mr Chhokar
had not understood the word `witness'. As I understood it,
the word 'witness' had not been used. Mr Chhokar had been
asked if he wanted to give evidence. I did not understand
Mr Anwar's representation. It didn't make sense and I was
a bit suspicious . I then told Alan to take the notes of the
precognition to the interpreter, Mr Aziz, and to check with
him if they were accurate. The notes Alan had read to me were
consistent with Mr Aziz's recollection."
21.14 The matter came to a head
on the Friday morning, just before the trial proper was about
to start. Mr MacDonald had learned at the precognition (supported
by the interpreter) that Mr Chhokar did not wish to give evidence.
He relayed this information to the Advocate Depute who was happy
to discharge Mr Chhokar from giving evidence. At 12.15 pm he
met Mr and Mrs Chhokar and other relatives (but not Mr Anwar).
He explained that the case was about to start and that it would
deal with photographs only. At 12.20 pm, with his colleague
George Macleod also present, he explained to the relatives (and
Mr Anwar) that the Court was about to empanel a jury, and that
once the jury has been empanelled they would all be allowed
into Court to hear the evidence.
21.15 Mr Anwar then informed Mr MacDonald that Mr Chhokar wanted
to give evidence. He said that Mr Chhokar did not understand
the word "witness" and that the family were insisting
that Mr Chhokar should give evidence. Mr MacDonald reiterated
that if Mr Chhokar was a witness then he could not go into Court
and it would be wrong for anyone who had been in Court to relay
information to him as a potential witness.
21.16 At 12.40 pm the jury was empanelled, and Mr MacDonald
advised Mr Anwar in the presence of Mr and Mrs Chhokar and other
relatives that following the interview with Mr Chhokar their
views had been passed to the Advocate Depute and Mr Chhokar
had been discharged as a witness. Therefore, Mr Chhokar would
not now be called as a witness and was free to sit in Court.
21.17 Mr MacDonald's account of this to me was -
"... Mr Chhokar, via the interpreter, said he didn't
want to give evidence. A few minutes later after [my]
seeing the Advocate Depute and returning to the family room,
Mr Anwar said that Mr Chhokar and the family wanted him to
give evidence. This was the opposite of what Mr Chhokar had
said to me. I felt that Mr Chhokar had nothing significant
to say in evidence, but it wasn't my decision to say whether
or not he was to give evidence. I was told afterwards that
Mr Chhokar actually wanted to give evidence and I wanted
to know how that had happened. At 12:20pm I went back into
the room with George Macleod and Mr and Mrs Chhokar
and Aamer Anwar were present. We explained which witnesses
would be called so that Mr and Mrs Chhokar would
know what was going to happen. Aamer Anwar was now saying
it would be good tactics for Mr Chhokar to give evidence,
he was essentially telling me what to do as a Fiscal Depute.
I couldn't believe it. When Mr Chhokar said that he wanted
to give evidence, I was surprised and frustrated. Only 5 minutes
before everything had been different, now there was another
issue to deal with. Aamer Anwar said that there had been confusion
because Mr Chhokar did not understand the word 'witness'.
At that point I didn't know how to deal with that, I had been
up and told the Advocate Depute about one decision and now
I came back down to find that everything was completely different.
If he was going to give evidence then he wouldn't be allowed
into court, so we explained that. Finally, we said that if
there was a problem he had to take it up at a later date,
as the final decision had been made. Aamer Anwar said that
the family were insisting that Mr Chhokar gave evidence.
Mr and Mrs Chhokar, Mr Aziz, Miss Gufoor,
George Macleod, possibly the sister, Aamer Anwar and myself
When I went back to the room, Mr Anwar was angry or at
least somewhere between annoyed and angry. He was visibly
upset. You could tell by his face he was unhappy. I wanted
Mr Aziz to tell me what had happened in my absence, but
he did not want to get involved. The interpreters had had
enough, you could sense they were becoming involved, but they
just wanted to interpret. I was left with a dilemma, but we
eventually said we had reached the end of the issue and had
to move on. By this time I was beginning to feel that Aamer
Anwar was not representing Mr and Mrs Chhokar very
well, he was coming very close to committing a criminal offence
and perverting the course of justice. He was interfering with
the prosecution and the Advocate Depute said that himself.
The Advocate Depute was affronted at Aamer Anwar telling him
what the Crown tactics should be, I would have told Aamer
Anwar that myself if I had backing and support. The word `witness'
was never used during my conversation with Mr Chhokar.
We had spoken about giving evidence and talk of witnesses
was not relevant. Hence it was irrelevant whether or not he
had understood what a witness was."
21.18 Mr Anwar, a trainee solicitor, had formed the view that
the prosecution team was incompetent - he said as much at a
later stage in the trial, and he has described them to me as
"bungling idiots" - and set about to manage the prosecution
himself. Mr MacDonald comments in the extract above that Mr
Anwar came close to perverting the course of justice. I do not
suppose that that was Mr Anwar's intention; but the officials
perceived that risk and had to take appropriate action.
21.19 It is also hard to escape the conclusion, from the accounts
quoted above, that Mr Anwar was putting pressure on Mr Chhokar,
sometimes against his will. There were three witnesses to Mr
Chhokar's statement that he did not want to give evidence -
Mr MacDonald, Mr Aziz and Mrs Chhokar - and yet within a matter
of minutes of learning of this, Mr Anwar claimed - also in the
presence of several witnesses - that Mr Chhokar did wish to
give evidence. We do not know what passed between Mr Anwar and
Mr Chhokar in the few minutes when Alan MacDonald was out of
the room. The interpreters, understandably, did not want to
be drawn on that. But if Mr Chhokar was persuaded to allow it
to be said that he did wish to give evidence it was against
21.20 The point of concern here for this Inquiry is that communication
between the prosecution team and the parents of the murdered
man - family liaison - was utterly frustrated. The liaison officer,
Mr MacDonald, had been cut off from direct communication with
Mr Chhokar, and was only able to talk to him direct and in privacy
under the conditions of a formal precognition, and that only
because he was at that stage still technically a witness.
21.21 These problems were very apparent to all the officials
involved with the case; and at some point during these days
- the exact timing is not recorded - the Deputy Crown Agent
instructed that two people should be present when speaking to
Mr Anwar and that notes should be taken.
A confrontation with security
21.22 At 10.20 am on 10th November Mr MacDonald,
on going to the secure Witness Room, met Mr Anwar. Mr Anwar
was `very annoyed'. He said he had been stopped by the Head
of Security who had been aggressive with him and had tried to
physically stop him taking a family member into the room. He
asked whether the Security Guard would have treated a white
solicitor in the same way. He said he wanted to make a complaint
about the Security and made it very clear that he did not want
anyone `hassled' or turned away. Mr MacDonald said that he would
deal with the matter so that Mr Anwar could have unrestricted
access to that room without experiencing further difficulties.
21.23 I took evidence from several witnesses about this incident:
Mr MacDonald; Mr Barclay Williams, the Security Supervisor at
the High Court in Glasgow, who was the man who stopped Mr Anwar
on this occasion; and Mr Dowie, the Court Manager -
Mr MacDonald -
"... there had been a problem with the security guards
and Mr Anwar going into the witness room with a relative.
They wouldn't let him in and there was a confrontation, the
security guards got the people in the room to identify the
person who was trying to get in by describing him by the colour
of his turban.
... It was Aamer Anwar who raised the problem with the
issue of the colour of the turban. He was very angry that
he had tried to get into the room and had been stopped, he
said that the relative did not want to get hassle. He asked
me if a white solicitor would have been treated in the same
After the turban issue Mr Anwar was allowed to come
and go as he pleased and it wasn't raised again. The person
wearing the turban wasn't there when the comments were made.
The security guard went into the room and asked those inside
what colour of turban the gentleman was wearing. That couldn't
have been heard by the wearer of the turban and so he couldn't
have been offended by it. Aamer Anwar was aware of who was
allowed to go into the room. I suppose I might do things differently
now, I would set parameters, it was a family room. As far
as I was concerned the definition of family included Mr Chhokar's
mother and father, his sister and any relatives, but not strangers
or supporters. Aamer Anwar knew that. I don't know whether
or not the security guards knew that. I did not tell the security
guards that I had given Aamer Anwar my pass. The security
guard was just doing his job, it was quite right that he should
have stopped both of them."
Mr Williams -
"Mr Anwar tried to get into the family room
with another man. I thought he was a member of the public.
They came from the unempanelled jurors' room. I challenged
Mr Anwar and he said that he was with the brother or
brother-in-law (I'm not sure) of the deceased. I then accompanied
the men to the family room. I went into the family room and
asked one of the family members to come to the secure entrance
to identify the gentleman. I asked the deceased's sister or
sister-in-law (I'm not sure) to come out and identify the
man as her husband. I think I may have asked the lady what
the man was wearing and I think the colour of his turban was
Mr Dowie -
"The arrangement between Alan and myself was that
only one person had authorised access to the secure unit and
that person was Alan MacDonald. I cannot comment on the behaviour
of the security guard but what he did in not letting Mr Anwar
through to the secure area was correct on the basis of the
agreement and instructions I had given. Any contact in the
secure area would have to be through Mr MacDonald.
The security officers were aware that Mr Anwar was
a representative of the community and at times would be accompanying
the family although he was usually in the company of the supporters'
group. I understood that Mr Anwar's principal role was
that he was representing the community and the supporters
who were there. With regard to the family, I simply understood
his role to be there as support for the family."
21.24 Mr Williams was doing his job quite correctly. He had
to establish the bona fides of the stranger, and it was
sensible to ask a person inside the room about what he would
be wearing. The answer to Mr Anwar's `would you treat a white
solicitor the same way' would of course be Yes: the only discrimination
which the security guard could make was between people who held
a pass and those who did not.
21.25 More significant for this Inquiry is that this incident
is the clearest evidence up to this point that Mr Anwar was
out of sympathy with what Mr MacDonald was trying to do for
the family, and had no patience with it. Mr MacDonald's perception
"I got the impression with Mrs [Sanehdeep] Chhokar
that we were on the same side, but Aamer Anwar did not give
me that impression. I suppose that Aamer Anwar was using me
as a whipping boy for his complaints and concerns. If he had
a problem and wanted something done, it was me that was approached.
... I felt there was a lack of respect for me as an individual.
... I would always treat people the way that I would expect
to be treated myself. I felt demeaned by Aamer Anwar ..."
21.26 There is other evidence of this too, from later in the
trial, which I shall come to in due course. I also came upon
evidence incidentally, from Mr MacDonald's colleague Dr Griffiths,
who told me -
"I did have some concern that Mr Anwar was perhaps
taking advantage of Alan MacDonald. At one point Alan MacDonald
came in to our office with a floppy disc and asked my secretary
to type up a lecture which Mr Anwar was delivering at
Strathclyde University on anti-racism. This request was refused
on my instructions. There was a danger that Mr Anwar
was taking advantage of Alan MacDonald and also a danger that
Alan might be taken advantage of."
21.27 When Mr Anwar met with me, on 16th February
2001, he remarked -
"It was the same people involved in the two trials.
I think they realised that the shit was going to hit the fan
and they over-reacted. They were going around and getting
glasses of water for the family. It was funny to see just
how far you could make someone like a Fiscal Depute go to
help somebody. It just shows how much they are going through
the motions. It was if they were saying that everything is
okay now, let's just move on."
21.28 Clearly, Mr Anwar was not interested in family liaison,
since he treats it with derision.
21.29 As the family were about to go into court on 10th
November there was a discussion regarding the use of the interpreters.
Mr Anwar stated that there was an agreement with Crown Office
that the interpreters would be used for Court purposes only.
Mr Anwar would interpret at any meetings with the relatives.
21.30 I have noted above (at paragraph 21.5)
that it is uncertain whether there had been such an agreement.
The only additional point to make here is that Mr Anwar's proposition
was accepted, and thus he further interposed himself between
the officials responsible for family liaison and the family
A meeting with the Advocate Depute?
21.31 In the course of the same discussion Mr Anwar said that
it had been suggested that the Advocate Depute would meet with
Mr and Mrs Chhokar that afternoon to introduce himself and to
discuss the case. Mr MacDonald said that Mr Murphy was
prepared to meet with Mr and Mrs Chhokar at the end
of the day in the presence of the interpreters and not Aamer
Anwar. Mr Anwar continued to maintain that he had agreed with
the Deputy Crown Agent that he (Mr Anwar) would interpret at
any meetings. In the event, since Mr Anwar was unwilling to
agree to a meeting without himself being present, there was
no meeting with the Advocate Depute during the trial.
21.32 I got Mr Murphy's account of this -
"Alan MacDonald went to explain to the family that
Mr Chhokar was not required. He came back with word that the
family wanted to see me and I would then inform the defence
that I was to meet with the family. The message then came
back that the family were insisting on Aamer Anwar being present
at the meeting, but as I understood it, it was Aamer Anwar
who told Alan that. I explained to Alan that I had to maintain
my position during the trial and that I could not meet a representative
of a campaigning group in those circumstances. There is a
question of prosecuting impartially in the public interest
and the responsibility stops with me. I spoke to the Lord
Advocate and explained to him that I would meet with the family
and Aamer Anwar after the trial but was unable to do so during
the course of the trial. The defence had brought to my attention
a public rally at which Aamer Anwar was due to speak. Aamer
Anwar was therefore involved in the political arena and I
could not be seen to discuss the case with him.
I had concerns about Aamer Anwar's representations on
the points of Mr Chhokar giving evidence and wishing to discuss
my tactics during the case. I was suspicious in the sense
that it was the second occasion when something had been narrated
to me by Alan MacDonald from Aamer Anwar which was inconsistent
with other information. The Deputy Crown Agent has no authority
to bind Crown Counsel. The other difficulty in relation to
discussing tactics etc is that these things can get out to
If Aamer Anwar had been introduced to me as a family support
person then I would have had no problem in meeting with him,
but Mr Anwar had a very public role in this case."
21.33 Mr Murphy had a clear perception of Mr Anwar's legitimate
role as a campaigner, and rightly insisted that it could not
be confused with that of an interpreter or family friend. He
was aware, as Mr Anwar was not, that it would be highly prejudicial
to the prosecution for him to have anything to do with a public
campaigner during the course of the trial.
Provision of witness lists
21.34 Mr MacDonald has recorded that copies of the Indictment
and Notices etc together with a full list of witnesses were
made available on this and subsequent days to Mr Anwar and the
relatives. I asked him about the background to this, and he
told me -
"Aamer Anwar also wanted the Crown list of witnesses,
I am not sure why, but I said he couldn't have it. This was
intrusive. He said the police had it and the Clerk of Court
confirmed it was in the public domain and so I thought there
couldn't be any harm. I didn't really know why he wanted it,
he later said it was on behalf of Mr Chhokar. He wanted
a copy of the indictment and a list of witnesses. I put these
in booklets for the family, but I didn't have this translated."
21.35 Mr Murphy told me a different story -
"I have a master running order [of witnesses] ...
which goes to my Crown Junior and myself. I then have extracts
of that each day for the defence and the court macer. It is
never given to anyone else. That running order sometimes bears
no relation to what actually happens for unforeseeable reasons,
usually problems over witness availability ... I think Alan
MacDonald also had a copy of the running order, but he only
had access to it in order that he was able to marshal the
Alan MacDonald was told to give the family an overview
of the evidence, for example, scene of crime officers, eye
witnesses, pathology, etc. This would allow the family to
know the direction the case was taking, and they would also
need a forewarning of evidence such as the pathology evidence."
21.36 Mr MacDonald was right to see this as intrusive. He should
not have made witness lists available to a third party. There
are several dangers in making witness lists available -
· Witnesses are often reluctant when called on
to help the police and the courts: if they knew that their
names and possibly their addresses or places of work could
be put into the hands of victims' families or of a campaigner,
they would be even less likely to co-operate.
· If the lists are put into the hands of a third
party there would be nothing to stop him from carrying out
his own investigations.
· The Crown should not release witness lists,
lest the prosecution be jeopardised through allegations of
potential interference with the evidence. That may, importantly,
prejudice the right of the accused to a fair trial.
Note-takers, and segregation, in court
21.37 Later in the same day (10th November) Mr Anwar
made two complaints. One was that his note-takers had not been
allowed to sit in the front row of the public benches. The second
complaint was that, on entering the court building, white supporters
of the campaign were being directed to the canteen and Asian
supporters were being directed to the unempannelled Jury Room;
and in court itself white people were being directed to the
left and Asians were directed to the right. Mr Anwar pointed
out that it was not just Asian people who were supporting the
21.38 Mr Anwar returned to this issue in the public statement
he made at the end of the trial, on 29th November,
claiming that there had been a deliberate policy of racial segregation
within the courtroom -
"Even at its most basic level, we noticed that on the
first day of the trial the head of security adopted a deliberate
policy of segregating the court room by pointing white people
to one side of the court and blacks to the other, this continued
until it was complained about. Why are court officials allowed
to harass the black and Asian community as though they are
and he repeated it to me when I met him with members of the
Chhokar family -
"There was segregation in the court. White people
were made to sit at the left and Asians to the right. An assumption
was made by the guards that white people would not be supporting
the family. The majority of the 150 people there who
were supporting the family were white.
There is a rudeness by people who deal with you. This
was pointed out to the Crown. I said to the Crown 'once again
your colour blind approach did not even see segregation in
court'. The response by them was that they were not in charge
21.39 The police have responsibility for security in the courtroom
and for the safety of everyone in the building. I took evidence
on the police role from Inspector Eddie Haggarty of Strathclyde
Police, Courts Branch. He explained the briefing he had had
on this case, and put it in the perspective of his job generally
"I was kept abreast of the plans being made in respect
of this case by Norman Dowie and Dr Griffiths. We had
a number of discussions about the case. They had intelligence
about a possible demonstration and also about the numbers
of supporters who were expected to come to Court. This case
was a high profile murder case but we get lots of murder cases
here. The most difficult type of situation for us to deal
with is where, for example, a young boy has been killed by
another boy in a street fight situation and the families come
to Court, sometimes bringing weapons with them, and becoming
very confrontational. The Chhokar case was one of the better
cases to manage from our point of view."
21.40 In respect of the seating arrangements for note-takers
he said -
"We always try to keep the front two rows clear
because the dock is very close to the front rows and it is
a security matter. I was made aware that individuals had complained
that they were moved from the front two rows in the Chhokar
case. No reason was given to me about why they wanted to sit
in the front rows but it might have been that they had a difficulty
in hearing the case. The two benches immediately behind
the dock are not used. The benches to the side are used by
the press ... The individuals in the Chhokar case were then
directed to other parts of the Courtroom. After the intervention
of the Procurator Fiscal, however, they were allowed to sit
in the front two rows. I think Mr Macleod of the
Fiscal's Office came and said that they were allowed to sit
in the front two rows. I believe the Procurator Fiscal
had phoned my Superintendent and as a result the matter was
out of my hands."
21.41 With regard to segregation in the public benches he said
"... the deceased's family had several white people
with them. We generally try to separate one faction from another
and indeed they generally separate themselves within the Courtroom.
There were whites with the [Chhokar] family. We will
try to separate different factions from a common sense point
21.42 Mr Dowie, the Court Manager, also gave me a perspective
on this issue -
"I did not see or observe any racial segregation.
I was made aware of a police decision later on in relation
to this but the decision was not explained on the basis of
racial grounds but on the basis of separating the family and
relatives of the deceased from the family and relatives of
the accused. At the end of murder trials emotions are generally
running high between the two families. These emotions
can spark off riots and near riots. We are dealing with full-time
experienced Court officers who look at the local circumstances
within the courtroom. It is a matter of judgment for them.
Had I been aware of someone complaining about racial segregation
I would have acted quickly and asked the police about it.
If I had been told that the segregation was on the basis of
keeping the families apart, then I would not have interfered.
If I had found out that there was segregation on racial grounds,
I would have intervened. From what I understand from this
situation, the police were following a recognised protocol
where a large number of people from (two) separate groups
were attending in court at the conclusion of the trial. It
is not unusual in these situations for both parties to behave
up until the verdict and then all hell to break loose in court
21.43 Finally, I asked the judge in the case, Lord Bonomy,
whether he observed segregation of members of the public on
the basis of their race. He said -
"People do often seem to be segregated in court depending
on their relationship with the accused or deceased. I cannot
tell on what basis there may have been segregation in the
Chhokar case. The family was generally sitting in the same
place in the court."
"I observed nothing in this case which was not normal
practice. I suspect the police take steps to ensure separation
between different groups of people. The separation of different
groups appears to be under the control of the police for public
order reasons. I have on occasions asked for additional security
prior to a verdict being returned in a murder case because
that is a point at which the emotions of the families and
friends of those involved run high".
21.44 I accept these explanations.
12 See Appendix 16 for explanation
13 Criminal Procedure (Scotland)
Act 1995, section 281(1) provides that "...it shall be
presumed that the body of the person identified in [an autopsy
report lodged as a production by the prosecutor] is the body
of the deceased identified in the indictment or complaint..."
unless the accused gives prior notice that the contrary is alleged.
14 Manjit Sengha is quoted in The
Scotsman of 11th March 1999 as follows - "We
expected three men to go on trial. When we arrived at the High
Court and saw just one man on trial we were very confused. We
have never been given any explanation why this happened."
15 See Appendix 16 for explanation
of this term
16 See Appendix 16. A `production'
is a document or article which may be produced as evidence in
17 the document containing all information
relevant to the case including draft charges, draft list of
witnesses, summary of facts, all precognition statements etc
18 A standard form of letter from
the Crown Office, containing further instructions to the precognoscer,
which may include, for example, reprecognition of certain witnesses,
a request for further productions, or that checks be made to
ensure that all productions are labelled and numbered correctly.
19 A case where records are kept
on paper, not on computer.
20 This and the following quotations
are from The Scotsman
21 HMA v. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed
Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah
22 ie medical certificates or letters
from a doctor testifying, on soul and conscience, that the individual
is unfit to attend court
23 Chhokar Family Justice Campaign
Statement read at a Press Conference following the verdict in
HMA v. Montgomery and Coulter - 28th November 2000