29 March 2022

'National sovereign' the next person charged over Old Parliament House fire

| Albert McKnight
Fire at Old parliament House

A fire started at Canberra’s Old Parliament House on 30 December 2021. Photo: Supplied.

Another person, a self-described “national sovereign”, has been arrested and charged over an alleged connection to last year’s dramatic and damaging fire at Old Parliament House.

When 28-year-old River Williams appeared in the ACT Magistrates Court on Monday (28 March), he took issue with being addressed by that name.

“My name’s not River. It’s a dead entity,” he said, giving a different name he preferred.

He represented himself in court and was supported by at least two people, including a woman who claimed she hadn’t known where Mr Williams was for 48 hours and at one point yelled, “You’ll all be held to account for what you’ve done”.

Previously tendered court documents allege during the protest at Old Parliament House on 30 December 2021, co-defendant Nicholas Malcolm Reed, 30, used a wooden shield to scoop up parts of a ceremonial fire and carry them to the building’s front door area.

Bruce Shillingsworth Jr, 30, allegedly stood near the doors and appeared to coordinate people to make way for Mr Reed.

The fire began to burn at the base of the doors by 11:30 am.

Meanwhile, 38-year-old co-defendant Dylan Wilson allegedly told 40-year-old co-defendant Ryan Dean Harder police were protecting something hidden in Old Parliament House that “attaches Crown claim to this land” and “once we get through this door, we’ll find out what it is”.

Police tried to reach the doors to extinguish the flames, but protesters allegedly blocked their access.

Mr Williams pleaded not guilty to charges of joint commission arson, assaulting a frontline community service provider, resisting a public official and attempting to hinder a public official.

In addition to the charges connected to the fire at Old Parliament House, the court heard he was also accused of lying down on top of a tent when police were trying to remove it on 14 January 2022.

Mr Williams denied the assault charge in court, saying, “I definitely didn’t assault anybody”.

In relation to a hinder charge, he said, “I linked arms with everybody at the front door but had my back to the officer so wasn’t facing him.”

READ ALSO: ‘Don’t you dare’: sovereign citizen protesters cause chaos in court

The prosecution opposed his release on bail based on the likelihood he may fail to reappear in court and may commit offences if released.

“I definitely wouldn’t commit anything,” Mr Williams said.

He said he was from northern NSW but was staying at a farm at Forbes Creek, near Braidwood. Prosecutor Archita Sreekumar noted some of his co-defendants were also living at the address.

Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker granted bail, adjourned the matter to 6 June and said she strongly advised him to get legal assistance.

The co-defendants remain before the courts.

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