A trial has begun in New South Wales that sees Mr Kulwinder Singh, 41, accused of the murder of his wife Pawinder Kaur, 32. The victim died in hospital after she was burned at their Rouse Hill home on the afternoon of December 2, 2013.
The court in New South Wales was told that Pawinder Kaur was found “completely on fire” on a driveway in Sydney’s north-west. Pawinder had made a call to triple zero in the minutes before the blaze and said her husband nearly killed her.
Kulwinder Singh has pleaded not guilty, arguing that he had nothing to do with the fire and his wife lit the blaze herself.
In opening remarks on Monday, Crown prosecutor Chris Maxwell, QC, played a 44-second phone call Ms Kaur made to triple zero at about 2.06pm. In a soft voice, Ms Kaur gives her name and address then says, “My husband nearly killed me”.
The call-taker responds, “What did he do to you, sweetheart?” There is no answer and the call is terminated.
Several minutes later, the jury was told, a neighbour heard a “piercing scream”. She turned and looked through her window, and saw Ms Kaur “moving down her driveway with her body completely on fire”.
“Mr Kulwinder Singh, the accused in this case, was quite close to her,” Mr Maxwell said. “That fire was fuelled by petrol.”
Neighbours helped put out the flames with a blanket and Ms Kaur was taken to Royal North Shore Hospital with burns to 90 per cent of her body. She could not be saved and died the next morning.
Mr Maxwell said the Crown will allege Mr Singh was abusive towards his wife during their relationship and did not give her access to her wages, which were paid into his account.
By the day of the fire, Mr Maxwell said, Ms Kaur had become determined that she would leave her husband.
“The Crown case is that Mr Singh is responsible for the death of Ms Kaur, either because he did the lighting or because he did the act or words which forced her to light herself, regardless of who did the dousing [with petrol],” Mr Maxwell said.
He pointed to the triple zero call as “a desperate cry for help from Ms Kaur”.
Mr Singh’s barrister Margaret Cunneen, SC, said her client denies setting fire to his wife.
She said Mr Singh was upstairs when he heard a “dreadful scream” and ran down to find Ms Kaur on fire. A witness is expected to give evidence that she saw Mr Singh using both of his hands in an attempt to pat out the flames.
“He denies having anything to do with forcing her or persuading her in any way to burn herself. He denies murdering her,” Ms Cunneen said.
“The defence is, ladies and gentlemen, that the deceased did this to herself – put petrol on her body and lit herself – not necessarily to kill herself, ladies and gentlemen, but for her own reasons. To set fire to herself, and perhaps hopefully to be rescued in short order.”
Ms Cunneen said only Ms Kaur’s fingerprints and DNA were found on a cigarette lighter and a container of fuel in the laundry. She said just 30 seconds before the emergency call, Ms Kaur phoned her brother and said Mr Singh was “going on about money”.
“There was nothing to the brother about violence, or killing, or burning, or threats,” Ms Cunneen said. “I anticipate that evidence will support our client’s account of what happened on that day.”
The trial continues.