A fire that caused millions of dollars in damage to the facade of the Old House of Parliament was deliberately started, a jury has found.
Bruce Shillingsworth Jr and Nicholas Reed were tried in the ACT Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to arson, aiding and abetting arson and damaging Commonwealth property.
After two days of trial, the jury on Monday found the two men guilty.
The pair have been accused of being the leaders of the group that camped near the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and damaged the Old Houses of Parliament on December 30, 2021.
As the jury read their verdict, supporters of Reed and Shillingsworth who had gathered at the back of the Canberra courtroom gasped.
Bruce Shillingsworth Jr was found guilty by the ACT Supreme Court on Monday of aiding and abetting arson and damaging Commonwealth property in a December 2021 fire at the Old Houses of Parliament. Shillingsworth is pictured outside court
Leaning forward, one of them shouted “no” as Shillingsworth was found guilty. The woman cried silently as the group whispered the outcome to each other.
Neither Reed nor Shillingsworth visibly reacted to the verdict.
Crown Prosecutor Soraya Saikal-Skea told the court that so far the protest had been largely peaceful.
In CCTV footage shown in court, a man the jury found to be Reed was shown picking up supplies for a smoking ceremony in a silver Mercedes, before starting a fire.
Reed was later seen putting coal on a piece of wood and carrying it down the stairs. The prosecution alleged that he then placed it in front of the door, where it caught fire.
Reed’s attorney, James Sabharwal, argued it was “difficult” for the jury to identify a complete stranger based on a few CCTV footage.
“You only saw him in court. How difficult (is it) for you to identify a complete stranger,” Mr Sabharwal said during closing arguments.
The attorney argued that the jury could not come to a conclusion simply based on “suspicion” that the man in the footage was Reed.
But the jury ultimately sided with the prosecution and found the evidence, which included the silver Mercedes registered in the name of a woman who shared the same last name and address as the defendant, to be sufficient to convict.
Meanwhile, Shillingsworth was found guilty of aiding and abetting arson by coordinating protesters, ordering someone to cover up cameras and associating with other protesters to prevent police from putting out the blaze .
The prosecution alleged that the day before the incident, Shillingsworth encouraged the members to “take a stand” and “come in here and kick down this door.”
Social media footage shown in court on Thursday showed Shillingsworth on the building’s portico giving an emotional speech to other protesters.
“We can break down any door. Gates of injustice. Gates of Genocide. Doors behind which they take our children and hide them,” he could be heard saying.
In CCTV footage shown in court, a man the jury identified as Reed (above) was shown picking up supplies for a smoking ceremony in a silver Mercedes, before starting a fire
In another video from December 29, 2021, Shillingworth referred to the “deportation papers” the group posted on the gates of the Old Houses of Parliament.
“We served this notice. An immediate eviction notice… We tell them they need to move out immediately,” he said in the video played in court.
In CCTV and body camera footage from December 30, Shillingsworth was identified as part of the crowd blocking police attempts to reach the fire.
Ms Saikal-Skea asked the jury if they could, beyond a reasonable doubt, “infer” from the videos that Shillingsworth aided and abetted Reed.
In his own closing speech, Shillingsworth argued that the day’s events were simply a cultural ceremony.
“What we wanted to do was go in there and smoke this place,” he said on Friday.
“The smoking ceremony is a purification process. It is to purify evil spirits. Believe me, there are a lot of evil spirits in this place. That’s where they made the decision to kill my people.
Shillingsworth and Nicholas Reid have been accused of being the ringleaders of the group that camped near the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and damaged the Old Houses of Parliament (above)