Indigenous activists’ Parliament arson plot

Bruce Shillingsworth was found guilty by a jury. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

A destructive fire that caused millions of dollars in damage to Old Parliament House was deliberately lit as part of an anti-government protest, a jury has found, despite earlier arguments it was part of a cultural ceremony.

Nicholas Reed and Bruce Shillingsworth, both 32, were found guilty over their roles in the blaze that caused $5.3m in damage to the doors of the historic Canberra building in December 2021.

The jury deliberated for just under a day and handed back their verdict on Monday, declaring the pair were guilty of arson and aiding and abetting arson respectively.

Supporters of Reed and Shillingsworth who had gathered in the back of the ACT Supreme Court cried out “no” as the jury read their verdict.

Bruce Shillingsworth Jr was found guilty. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA NewsWire Photos 04 SEPTEMBER, 2023:Nicholas Malcolm Reed, a protestor who allegedly took part in the arson attack at Old Parliament House in Canberra leaves Magistrates Court in Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Courtney Gould
A jury convicted Nicholas Reed of arson. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Courtney Gould

Outside the courtroom, the group loudly questioned how the jury could have come to the conclusion given they “hadn’t seen all the evidence”.

Reed, who lives in Victoria, and Shillingsworth, from NSW, were accused of being ringleaders of a group that had been camping near the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

The December 30 fire followed repeated anti-government protests out the front of Old Parliament House by those linked to the sovereign citizen and anti-vaccination movement.

CCTV and footage from body-worn police cameras formed the case against the two men.

In the videos tendered to the court, Reed arrived in a silver Mercedes before building a fire for a smoking ceremony.

He then transferred the coals to the portico of Old Parliament House where it then caught fire.

The fire caused millions of dollars in damage to Old Parliament House. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Reed’s barrister, James Sabharwal argued that it would be “difficult” for the jury to identify a complete stranger based on a couple of CCTV videos.

But the jury ultimately sided with the prosecution and found the evidence, which included the silver Mercedes being registered to a woman who shared the same last name and address with the accused, was enough to convict.

The address, a home in Metung, is owned by Business Council of Australia president Tim Reed and his wife, according to The Australian.

Meanwhile, Shillingsworth was found guilty of directing another protester to smear paint and conceal two cameras prior to the blaze and preventing police from putting out the fire.

Shillingsworth, who represented himself and appeared in court wearing a kangaroo pelt and a traditional feathered headdress, argued that the events of the day were simply a “cultural ceremony”.

Shillingsworth appeared in court in traditional dress. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

He referred to Old Parliament House as a “significant symbol” and the group had wanted to “cleanse out the bad spirits” associated with the policies of genocide and dispossession.

Shillingsworth submitted that while he told fellow protesters to gather and break down the doors of the building only the day prior, he did not mean it literally.

Both men remain on bail until October 26 when Justice David Mossop will hand down their sentence.

Before adjourning, Mr Mossop urged Shillingsworth to consider getting legal advice ahead of the sentencing hearing.