A SENIOR detective paid tribute to the family and lawyer of Surjit Singh Chhokar as a man was convicted of his murder after a 17-year campaign.

The waiter died in the arms of his girlfriend after being stabbed outside his home in 1998.

Yesterday, Ronnie Coulter was convicted of the fatal attack after being tried for a second time.

Coulter, 48, was cleared of the crime in 1999 but brought back to court before a new jury following changes to Scotland’s double jeopardy laws, which previously prevented individuals being tried twice for the same crime.

The High Court in Glasgow heard how Coulter told his sister he had “got away with the perfect murder” following the first trial.

He now faces life imprisonment after jurors returned a guilty verdict at the end of four weeks of evidence.

The Chhokar family and their lawyer, Aamer Anwar, have fought for justice for 32-year-old Surjit since his death in November 1998 in Overtown, North Lanarkshire.

Coulter’s conviction came too late for the victim’s father, Darshan Singh Chhokar, who died last November following a final interview in which he said his only wish was to see those responsible for his son’s death “face justice”.

After the verdict, Anwar, above, who was a final-year law student when he began campaigning for the family, praised Chhokar’s “two stubborn parents who refused to be silenced”, but revealed the campaign had often left them “with no tears left to shed”.

Detective Chief Superintendent Clark Cuzen of Police Scotland said: “If Darshan Singh Chhokar was alive today, I can only imagine his feelings at seeing justice being served. It is important to recognise the tireless campaigning for justice over the years by the Chhokar family and their lawyer, Aamer Anwar. I hope they can take some comfort from today’s verdict.”

He went on: “Coulter has been cowardly for showing absolutely no remorse for his crimes and the fact that he has actively and deliberately tried to evade justice for years speaks volume about the individual.

“Surjit Singh Chhokar was a well-liked member of the community and did not deserve to be the victim of a sustained period of intimidation which ultimately led to his murder.”

Coulter, above, is only the second person in Scottish legal history to be tried twice for the same crime.The first was Angus Sinclair, who was found guilty in 2014 of the so-called World’s End murders.

Cuzen said putting a fresh case together had been “challen- ging” for police, who had to trace and re-interview original witnesses, as well as finding new associates of Coulter and taking statements from them.

Coulter denied the charges, blaming his nephew Andrew Coulter and another man, David Montgomery, for the murder. In evidence, they admitted being present at the attack, but denied responsibility.

Further charges, including a claim that Coulter forged Chhokar’s name on a £100 giro cheque on the day of his death, were dropped and police were unable to find evidence of a racial motive.

However, Coulter did use racist terms to describe the victim when confessing the crime to his former sister-in-law Noreen McPolland, telling her: “I stabbed the Paki bastard.”

McPolland said the admission came when she visited Coulter in Barlinnie Prison when he was on remand before his first trial for Chhokar’s murder. Standing with Chhokar’s mother, Gurdev Chhokar, and his sister, Manjit Sangha, Anwar said: “Today’s verdict is not a cause for celebration but relief that finally justice has been done. No-one can imagine the devastating toll on a family having to campaign for justice for nearly 18 years.

“Surjit was neither a rich nor a powerful man, but he was a loving son, father and brother who was lucky to have two stubborn parents who refused to be silenced as they fought for justice as a right and not a privilege.”

He went on: “There is real sorrow that Mr Chhokar is not here to see justice, but I hope that both he and Surjit are now finally at peace.”

‘The blood flew out of him’

SURJIT Singh Chhokar’s partner Liz Bruce broke down in court as she recalled how he died within moments of the fatal attack by Ronnie Coulter.

The witness recalled how she ran outside when she saw the assault unfold outside Chhokar’s home after he returned from work at an Indian restaurant.

She told the court how three men – Coulter, nephew Andrew Coulter, and David Montgomery – fled the scene and the victim put his head on his hands, adding : “The blood just flew out of him and he just fell. He flopped down and fell on the ground. I just didn’t believe it – he was dead.”

Yesterday, judge Lord Matthews deferred sentence on Coulter until October 31, telling him: “There is only one sentence I can pass, of life imprisonment. The only question for me is how long you should serve before being eligible for parole.”

The trial was the third since the 1998 murder, with the cases against Ronnie Coulter, Andrew Coulter and Montgomery heard in two separate court cases in 1999 and 2000.

The men blamed each other and were all acquitted of murder. However, two inquiries were ordered into the treatment of the Chhokar family and decisions taken in the case.

This led to major changes in the justice system in response to findings of “institutional racism”.

Police were ordered to reopen the case following representations by the Chhokar family when double jeopardy rules changed, with permission for a fresh prosecution granted in November 2014.

The trial heard Coulter and the other two men went to see Chhokar on the night he died over a row about a stolen Giro cheque.

The 32-year-old suffered three stab wounds, one of which pierced his heart.