The self-proclaimed leader of Australia’s national socialist movement has been refused bail over an alleged attack on a group of bushwalkers who, police say, had filmed him and fellow neo-Nazis on a hike in the Victorian bush.
Up to 15 neo-Nazis including Thomas Sewell, 28, terrorised hikers by using knives and force to smash the car they were in at a camping spot in the Cathedral Ranges last month, Melbourne Magistrates Court was told on Wednesday.
Thomas Sewell is the head of the neo-Nazis movement in Australia.Credit:YouTube
The Age revealed in January that about 40 of Mr Sewell’s group were seen in at the Grampians, in western Victoria, over the Australia Day weekend and were heard chanting “white power” and “We are the Ku Klux Klan”.
On March 1 Mr Sewell allegedly assaulted a security guard at the Channel Nine building in Melbourne – which also houses The Age offices – in the hours before Nine’s A Current Affair broadcast a report about his group.
Mr Sewell, from Rowville, is charged with armed robbery, affray by unlawful violence, assault and offending while on bail over the clash at the Cathedral Ranges State Park, north-east of Melbourne, on May 8. Police allege three hikers in the smashed car and three in another were forced to hand over their phones before they could leave.
Detective Senior Constable Michael Taylor told the court that the hikers had crossed paths with the neo-Nazis in the park and that a bushwalker remarked to friends that the Caucasian men in black T-shirts must have been “the Nazis in the Grampians”.
Neo-nazi members gather in the Grampians during the Australia Day weekend.
Later that day one hiker filmed the neo-Nazis but one of them saw them and yelled “Antifa” and the group, some in balaclavas, confronted the bushwalkers and began kicking the car, smashing its windows and demanding the hikers’ phones, the detective said.
There was no evidence the six hikers had any connection to Antifa or any other left-wing organisation.
One hiker crashed their car into a boulder in an attempt to get away, the court heard.
Police allege Mr Sewell injured one of his hands smashing a car window and point to evidence of his blood and fingerprints on the vehicle. A search of his home six days later found balaclavas, knives and an axe in his bedroom and blood and knuckledusters in his Volkswagen Golf.
A man attacks a Channel Nine security guard on March 1. Police allege the attacker was Thomas Sewell.
Mr Sewell had an injured hand when police searched his home, the court heard, whereas photographs found on a camera seized from an associate showed his hand was not injured in the hours before the May 8 attack.
Mr Sewell’s bail application heard that in a podcast this year he described himself as a “political soldier for the white race and Adolf Hitler is my leader”, that he adheres to neo-Nazi ideology and believes he is in a “race war”.
Detective Senior Constable Taylor said Mr Sewell had shown “a remarkable grandiosity in himself and the white race” in posts on social media app Telegram, and that police were concerned he was erratic, volatile and had a propensity for violence. “This is extremely concerning behaviour,” he said.
But under cross-examination, the detective acknowledged there were inconsistencies in the hikers’ statements and that investigators couldn’t definitively say which of the neo-Nazis produced weapons or demanded the phones.
Some hikers were “petrified” of reprisal attacks and had not given statements, the detective said.
Mr Sewell is the only person charged over the attack but the investigation continues. The hikers’ phones weren’t recovered.
Defence counsel Kieran Reynolds said the case against his client wasn’t as strong as it initially appeared, and argued Mr Sewell faced up to two years in custody before his case got to trial.
Mr Reynolds argued police concerns about Mr Sewell could have been addressed through bail conditions including a curfew and him staying with his father, Anthony. Anthony Sewell told the court he didn’t share his son’s ideology or beliefs.
Prosecutor Lachlan Cameron said phone calls from prison in which Mr Sewell urged supporters to “investigate” the alleged victims showed the accused man posed a risk of interfering with witnesses.
Magistrate Timothy Bourke found there were “frailties” with the prosecution case but was not convinced Mr Sewell made a compelling case for bail. There was also an unacceptable risk to the public, he found and refused bail.
Mr Sewell is due to return before court in August.
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