ZB ZB
Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Listen to NAME OF STATION
Up next
Listen live on
ZB

'I'm gone': Radio host recalls despair as masked men approached in the dark

Author
Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Mon, 11 Sep 2023, 8:49PM
Radio host Harnek Singh was attacked in his driveway in December 2020.
Radio host Harnek Singh was attacked in his driveway in December 2020.

'I'm gone': Radio host recalls despair as masked men approached in the dark

Author
Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Mon, 11 Sep 2023, 8:49PM

As a group of masked men approached Harnek Singh’s ute, which had been rammed just moments earlier as he tried to pull into the driveway of his South Auckland home, it dawned on the popular talkback radio host that he might not survive what was about to follow.

“It took a second for me to decide, ‘I’m gone’,” he told jurors today in the High Court at Auckland as he testified against four men accused of a politically motivated attempted murder and a fifth man accused of being an accessory after the fact.

“To be honest, when I saw that ... I just accepted it.”

The radio host paused for several extended periods today as he concentrated on recalling the incident, which resulted in dozens of stab wounds and what prosecutors have described as a nearly severed arm. His broadcaster’s voice remained strong, even when there was a slight quiver, and he declined a box of tissues that court staff handed to him.

 “I put my phone down, my head down and I decided to blow the [ute’s] horn,” he testified of the frantic seconds that followed. “And I heard the first bang on the windscreen.”

Soon thereafter, he said, his memory went blank with only a couple of vague memories surfacing of the time between that moment and waking up in a hospital bed the next day.

Jagraj Singh is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of aiding or encouraging the attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Jagraj Singh is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of aiding or encouraging the attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

“My right arm’s not working,” he recalled saying after the attackers left and people came out to investigate the honking. “Call an ambulance, please.”

Prosecutors have said six men tailed the radio host on the evening of December 23, 2020, as he returned home from a marathon four-hour broadcast at the Papatoetoe temple where his recording studio was. Three of them have pleaded guilty, while three other men are now on trial alongside a man with name suppression accused of having orchestrated the assassination attempt.

The current defendants include Jobanpreet Singh, who is accused of directly participating in the attack; Jagraj Singh and Gurbinder Singh, who allegedly followed Harnek Singh in a Toyota Prius, offering encouragement or support to the attackers; and Sukhpreet Singh, who is charged with accessory after the fact for allegedly welcoming two of the attackers into his home after the incident.

Harnek Singh wore a dark T-shirt in the witness box today and held his arms outstretched as he was asked about how many wounds he incurred that night.

Jobanpreet Singh is on trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Jobanpreet Singh is on trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham

“I had so many cuts on this part that doctors could not stitch it,” he said, holding out his right arm. “They had to take skin from my thigh and graft to here.”

He said he was able to count 175 staples in his head alone.

By the time he started counting individual wounds, the skin graft had already occurred, but there were still over 40 of them, he said.

Harnek Singh described himself as an operations manager by trade who began a small community FM radio programme in 2013 that had a reach of only several kilometres. But he realised several years in that people had begun recording audio clips of his programmes to share on social media. Today, the programme has just under 473,000 subscribers on YouTube, with the bulk of his audience overseas, mainly in the US, India, the UK and Canada.

A man with name suppression is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of orchestrating the attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

A man with name suppression is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of orchestrating the attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

New Zealand, he said, accounts for maybe 5 to 10 per cent of his audience. But there were still plenty of listeners - both fans and critics, some of whom would make threats - who would approach him in Auckland. The defendants, prosecutors have said, all fall in the critic camp.

Three days a week, Harnek Singh said he would discuss “Sikhism and misunderstandings in the history” of the religion before opening the phone line up to callers. With hundreds of different sects of Sikhism, there is plenty of room for different interpretations, he said.

He acknowledged on the witness stand that his own opinions regarding Sikhism probably fall more along the liberal end of the spectrum, while the majority of his critics were more on the fundamentalist or conservative side. During an opening statement earlier this week, the lawyer for the alleged orchestrator of the attack described Harnek Singh as an “agitator” and purveyor of “clickbait”, but the radio host had a more benign description of what he did on air.

“I just gave my opinion, and there was reason behind it,” he said, explaining that his broadcasts would often be cut into snippets by others and unfairly shared on social media without context.

On the Wednesday night of the attack, he had been so in the flow of his show that he went over by almost an hour.

“It was just past 10 when I looked at the time and I told a caller, ‘Oh my god, my wife must be waiting’,” he recalled. “Then I stopped the programme and called my wife at four past 10.”

Gurbinder Singh (left) and Sukhpreet Singh are two of the five men on trial in the High Court at Auckland in relation to the alleged attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Gurbinder Singh (left) and Sukhpreet Singh are two of the five men on trial in the High Court at Auckland in relation to the alleged attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

It took about 15 minutes to drive to his Wattle Downs home, listening to music along the way and not noticing anything out of the ordinary. But he got a shock when his ute was hit just as he was turning into his driveway. It made no sense given the usually quiet residential street, he said, explaining that his initial instinct was to get out of the vehicle, assess the damage and call police.

But that idea quickly melted away as he saw multiple men approaching his vehicle with something in their hands, and he instead braced for the worst.

The honking of his ute’s horn might have saved his life, prosecutors speculated at the outset of the trial last week, explaining that police arrived on the scene quickly and were able to apply a tourniquet to his badly bleeding arm.

His wife came out of their house after being roused by a neighbour.

“I saw that he was bleeding profusely,” she said today through a Punjabi interpreter. “He was filled with blood all over.”

The trial is set to continue tomorrow before Justice Mark Woolford and the jury.

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you