Arson Accusation and Court Proceedings
On the first day of the trial for Bruce Shillingsworth Jr., an accused accomplice in the arson at the Old Parliament House, a gripping statement was presented to the jury. Allegedly, Shillingsworth had incited the protesters, a day prior to the incident, to "knock down this door." Shillingsworth has pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting arson and causing damage to Commonwealth property. His co-accused, Nicholas Reed, also denies charges of arson.
Alleged Actions and Statements
The prosecution alleges that Shillingsworth and Reed spearheaded the group that camped near the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and subsequently damaged the Old Parliament House on December 30, 2021. The prosecution asserts that Shillingsworth galvanized the group to "make a stand," effectively leading to the door being taken down. Video evidence presented to the court shows Shillingsworth delivering a motivational speech to his fellow protesters, highlighting their ability to dismantle "doors of injustice."
A separate video dated December 29, 2021, features Shillingsworth discussing the "eviction papers" that the group had plastered on the parliament house doors, stating they had served an "immediate notice of eviction." Crown Prosecutor Soraya Saikal-Skea presented over an hour of CCTV footage from the day of the incident, arguing that the fire was "deliberately lit," indicating a violent twist in what had been a peaceful protest.
Reed's Alleged Actions
The CCTV footage allegedly discloses Reed gathering supplies for a smoking ceremony from a silver Mercedes, followed by him setting a fire. He was later seen placing coals on a piece of wood and carrying it to the door's forefront, which subsequently caught fire. The footage also shows Shillingsworth handing paint to a group member and pointing to the cameras.
As the doors were engulfed in flames, protesters reportedly formed a horseshoe-shaped human chain to block police officers from putting out the fire. At that time, police were already inside the building, which was open for public tours of the Museum of Australian Democracy.
Former Detective Inspector Adrian Craft testified that upon noticing smoke underneath the door and activating the smoke alarm, the police swiftly responded. Body camera footage revealed around a dozen police officers retreating after unsuccessfully trying to penetrate the crowd.
James Sabharwal, Reed’s defense barrister, cautioned jury members against drawing hasty conclusions based on the CCTV footage. Shillingsworth, who opted to represent himself, pleaded with the jury to base their decision on fairness, not legality.
Shillingsworth's Appearance and Speech
Shillingsworth appeared in court donning a traditional headdress, a purple loincloth, and a kangaroo pelt. He later changed, but retained the pelt, while challenging the prosecution's portrayal of him and the protesters. “The way the prosecution looked at this today is painting the picture of an angry First Nations mob. That is not who we are,” he asserted.
The trial is scheduled to proceed, with additional evidence and arguments expected to be presented in due course.