A devoutly religious Auckland resident convicted of orchestrating the nearly successful attempt to murder popular Auckland-based international radio host Harnek Singh has been given one of the longest possible prison sentences for the crime, with a judge noting today that community protection and a strong message of deterrence were both necessary for the highly unusual case.
Harnek Singh suffered more than 40 stab wounds as he was ambushed by a group of strangers in the driveway of his Wattle Downs home after a late-night broadcast on December 23, 2020. If not for his quick thinking - he locked the door of his ute and began pounding on the horn, attracting the attention of neighbours as the attackers bashed in his window - he most likely would have bled to death from his extensive wounds, authorities said.
While the 48-year-old defendant, who continues to have interim name suppression, wasn’t present when the attack occurred, he harboured a years-long resentment against the radio host for the victim’s political views and more liberal interpretation of their mutual Sikh faith, Justice Mark Woolford noted today. He planned the “hit” and used his charismatic influence over others to recruit henchmen to do his bidding, the judge said.
An overflow crowd of supporters for the defendant filled two courtrooms today as a sentence of 13-and-a-half years was imposed, with a minimum period of imprisonment of nine years before he can begin applying for parole. The maximum sentence for attempted murder is 14 years. The only reason the defendant didn’t receive the full maximum sentence was because he deserved a six-month credit for the time he spent on electronically monitored bail while awaiting his lengthy trial in September and October, the judge said.
“It bears all the hallmarks of religious fanaticism,” Woolford said of the motivation for the attack. “Violence of this kind is committed in what is perceived as the furtherance of the greater good...
“Sentencing in this context requires a different approach. The emphasis must be placed on protecting the community from further violence and it is essential to send a strong message of deterrence to others.”
Harnek Singh has amassed an online radio audience of hundreds of thousands - the vast majority of whom listen from overseas. He has also garnered plenty of passionate critics, he acknowledged on the witness stand, explaining 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.
Harnek Singh was stabbed multiple times in his driveway in Wattle Downs on December 23, 2020.
He did not attend today’s hearing but wrote a victim impact statement that was read aloud by prosecutors. As a result of the attack, he required over 350 stitches to his head and upper body and multiple surgeries, he noted. He’s still recovering from the physical injuries three years later, but psychological injuries also linger for him and his family, he said.
“My family faces fear each day when the sun goes down,” he explained. “My wife and child wonder if someone is lurking in the shadows, looking into our home, wanting to attack us again ... We went from a carefree, spontaneous and fun-loving family to one that is constantly in fear for my safety.”
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But he encourages his family not to live in fear, he added, thanking those in the New Zealand justice system for having made sure that “no one is above the law, not even religion”.
Addressing the defendants directly, he added: “You came to kill me. ...You tried to silence me. You wanted to send a chilling message to all those who express their disagreement with your unorthodox religious views. But you failed. ...I will continue to express my opinions and beliefs as I always have.
“The only chilling message you have managed to send is to people with the same views and opinion as yours that actions have consequences and that in a country like New Zealand, the law does not bend for you if your wrongful acts are in the name of God.”
Those words resonated enough with the judge that he repeated them as he sentenced the defendant.
Harnek Singh of South Auckland was attacked and stabbed multiple times in his driveway in Wattle Downs in December 2020.
Defence lawyer Dale Dufty had sought discounts for his client’s previous good character and his traumatic upbringing in India. Crown prosecutor Luke Radich argued, however, that the nature of the case and the defendant’s role required the maximum possible starting point of 14 years.
“If this is not amongst the most serious cases of its type, then what is?” he asked. “It could not have been more pre-meditated ... and [the defendant] was the architect of it.”
The judge ultimately agreed.
The defendant with name suppression was joined in the High Court at Auckland today by Sukhpreet Singh, who was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact to attempted murder at the same trial, and by Sarvjeet Sidhu, who pleaded guilty to attempted murder just days before the trial began.
Sidhu, 27, who was alleged to have been one of the knife attackers in the driveway, was described by defence lawyer Andrew Speed as having been a victim of brainwashing by the lead defendant. He was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years’ imprisonment, taking into account his guilty plea.
Sukhpreet Singh was found guilty of being an accessory to attempted murder after the fact. Prosecutors said he welcomed two men into his home after they stabbed radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Sukhpreet Singh - who provided two of the stabbers with a shower and fresh clothes after the attack and helped unsuccessfully to hide their vehicle - was sentenced to six months of home detention. There was no evidence that the 44-year-old knew about the attack beforehand, defence lawyer Katie Hogan pointed out.
Today’s lengthy hearing came a year and a half after the sentencing of Jaspal Singh, another of the knife-wielding attackers who was the first to admit his participation in the murder plot. He later testified at the trial.
Two others still await sentencing early next year for attempted murder: Jobanpreet Singh, who was found guilty by the same jury of wielding a knife in the attack, and Hardeep Singh Sandhu, who pleaded guilty to aiding and assisting the attackers by following the radio host home.
A further two men, Jagraj Singh and Gurbinder Singh, were acquitted halfway through the trial earlier this year after their lawyers argued there wasn’t enough evidence against them for the jury to even consider the charges and Justice Woolford agreed.
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.
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