HMA v Ronnie Coulter

At the High Court in Glasgow today, 31 October, Lord Matthews sentenced Ronnie Coulter to life imprisonment for murder with a punishment part of 19 years and 8 months.

On sentencing, Lord Matthews made the following statement in court:

"On 4 November 1998, at about 11.30 pm, Surjit Singh Chhokar finished working and returned to the house he was staying at with his partner Elizabeth Bryce. He was no doubt looking forward to relaxing and perhaps enjoying some of the meal he was carrying. Instead of that he was the victim of an ambush which cost him his life.

The jury were satisfied that you were responsible for his brutal murder, which was, on the evidence, all on account of the theft of a Giro worth£110.70.

That Giro had been stolen by your nephew Andrew Coulter and for some reason Elizabeth Bryce arranged that he should meet Chhokar when he returned home. It is not clear to me whether Chhokar himself knew anything about this arrangement. It is certainly clear that he could not have known that he would be met by three men intent on doing him harm. It is equally clear that the arrangement between Elizabeth Bryce and Andrew Coulter was nothing to do with you.

Despite that you chose to involve yourself.

The evidence showed that what happened was not on the spur of the moment. Both Andrew Coulter and Donna Campbell spoke about a conversation that evening in which violence towards Chhokar was discussed. She said that she did not think it was serious and was just talk designed to impress but events proved otherwise.

Along with your nephew and David Montgomery, who was recruited to drive you and who, on his own admission was prepared to get involved in an assault, you travelled the short distance to Overtown. It is plain that your only purpose was violence and you must have had a knife to hand.

When the trap was sprung you were not content to let Andrew Coulter use his baton on Chhokar but you inflicted 3 stab wounds on his body in the most despicable and cowardly fashion.

Thereafter you attempted to cover your tracks, and in large measure, you succeeded in doing so.

Now, many years later, you are here to answer for your crime.

It has been a long period for Chhokar’s family. They have waited patiently and with quiet dignity for some measure of justice. Your conviction and your sentence will not provide any sort of satisfaction. They would rather this had never happened, that Chhokar’s father could have spent his declining years with his son and that Chhokar himself could have gone on to have a long and happy life. The victim statements I have read cannot begin to address what his family must have gone through.

Yet I must pass a sentence on you to reflect as best as I can both your circumstances and those of this offence.

I have not taken account of speculation in the media but of what I heard in evidence and what has been said on your behalf by Mr Findlay. He has said all that could reasonably be said and I agree with him that your previous convictions are of little moment. I have also had regard, for what it is worth, to the information in the Criminal Justice Social Work Report and the report from Dr Campbell. It is clear that you have serious mental health issues and they will have to be monitored carefully in prison. However, they are not such as materially to limit the sentence which I must pass.

Since you have been convicted of murder the law allows for only one sentence but as a component part of that sentence I must select a period which must pass before you can apply for Parole. Whether or not you are ever released once that time has passed will be for others to decide.

In light of the premeditated violence in this case, that period would have been one of 20 years but since you spent around four months in custody awaiting your first trial it will instead be 19 years and 8 months.

Subject to that the sentence, which will run from 5 October 2016, is one of life imprisonment."