Tongan seasonal worker died defending wounded friend from gang member

A Tongan seasonal worker stabbed to death in central Blenheim, New Zealand had jumped in between his wounded friend and a gang member.

Hiko Lynch, 23, was stabbed with a 24-centimetre knife, thrust upwards into his abdomen, which pierced his heart. He collapsed onto the ground where he died, in the early hours of June 20 last year.

The details of that night recorded by police have been released publicly for the first time as the gang member, Auckland man George Junior Pikaahu, 34, originally charged with murder, admitted a charge of manslaughter for his part in Lynch’s death.

Pikaahu was secretary of the South Central Chapter of the Rebels MC gang, and had been at Club Envy during a visit to Blenheim with a large group of gang members, a police summary of facts said.

Unknown to Pikaahu at the time, two Rebels members on their way out of the club had knocked a Tongan seasonal worker unconscious in the stairwell.

Zachary Faumuina, 29, had punched the worker in the face without warning or provocation, before Brandon Joiner, 37, stood over the worker unconscious on the ground and kicked him twice in the face.

The seasonal worker was at the club with a large group of Tongan seasonal workers, in the country on the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme (RSE) which recruits horticulture and viticulture workers from overseas to fill labour shortages.

Once outside the club, where the Rebels were heading for their vehicles on Market St, Lynch and a friend heard about the assault in the stairwell.

They approached a trailing member of the Rebels group, about 3am, and punched him to the back of the head from behind, the summary said.

Pikaahu, about 5 metres in front, ran to help the gang member, pulling a 24-centimetre knife from his waistband.

He lunged at the RSE workers, wounding Lynch’s friend to the stomach, who fell to the ground.

Lynch moved between his friend and Pikaahu, who then stabbed Lynch.

A large brawl quickly developed with multiple skirmishes between Rebels and RSE workers, the summary said.

Pikaahu concealed the knife in his waistband, and crossed the road at the corner of Main St and Market St, where another gang member was having a fist fight with another RSE worker.

Pikaahu then pulled the knife again and attempted to strike the RSE worker in the abdomen, but the worker stepped backwards and avoided the knife.

A short time later, the two groups converged in another mass stand-off on the corner of Market St and Main St, in a series of fights and confrontations. Much of the altercation was captured on CCTV and about 50 people were estimated to be involved.

Police arrived and attempted to separate the two groups, using pepper spray and threatening to use tasers.

Rebels member Peter Uelese, 38, of Lower Hutt, was extremely aggressive towards police, verbally abusing them, and trying to prevent police giving treatment to Lynch, but was being held back by other gang members. Police threatened with a taser.

However, Uelese managed to kick Lynch in the neck as he lay dying on the ground, the summary said. Uelese was then forcibly removed by his associates.

Lynch died at the scene, while his wounded friend underwent surgery and had considerable scarring as a result.

Pikaahu was initially charged with murder, and was set to defend the charges at a jury trial in August.

However, he entered a guilty plea to a charge of manslaughter at the High Court, in Wellington, on Thursday. He also admitted wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and attempted wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

Uelese also appeared on Thursday, and admitted assault with intent to injure, and behaving in a disorderly manner in a public place likely to cause violence against persons to continue.

Lynch’s brother Tomasi Lynch was also in attendance by audiovisual link, as was family of the defendants.

Crown prosecutor Mark O’Donoghue said the Crown had been in discussion with defence lawyers since last year about whether the charge of murder faced by Pikaahu was the appropriate level of charge.

Having reviewed all the evidence, the Crown was not convinced it could prove Pikaahu had murderous intent, O’Donoghue said.

Pikaahu could have been acting in self-defence when the altercation started, however his use of force became excessive, so he would be unable to claim self-defence at trial, O’Donoghue said.

“On a pragmatic basis, the Crown is prepared to accept that manslaughter is appropriate.”

The defendants were remanded to a sentencing date of September 15, Pikaahu in custody and Uelese on bail.

Justice Cooke said he hoped it could be arranged for Lynch’s family in Tonga to watch the sentencing remotely.

Faumuina and Joiner, both of Auckland, were charged with assault with intent to injure for the assault in the stairwell, which they had both pleaded guilty to and received community-based sentences.


Photo supplied Caption: Tongan RSE worker Hiko Lynch, 23, died on June 20 last year.