Two men police say are leaders within Australia’s national socialist movement have pleaded not guilty to the alleged armed robbery of a number of hikers in regional Victoria earlier this year.
Thomas Sewell, 28, and Jacob Hersant, 22, will face trial on charges of armed robbery, affray and violent disorder over the alleged incident at the Cathedral Range State Park, north of Marysville, just before 4pm on May 8.
Police allege the pair were among a group of neo-Nazis dressed in black T-shirts emblazoned with a white symbol who attacked several bushwalkers after one of the alleged victims took a video of them from inside a car.
The hikers, whose identities have been suppressed, gave evidence this week during a committal hearing, describing the alleged attack as terrifying and chaotic. Two said they thought they might die.
On Friday afternoon, magistrate Peter Reardon said there was sufficient evidence to place Mr Sewell and Mr Hersant on trial. Both men pleaded not guilty to the charges. They will next face the County Court of Melbourne for a directions hearing on November 29.
An online viewer who tuned into Friday afternoon’s hearing, quickly flashed a sign which said “Free Tom Sewell” several times.
The court was told a further six people of interest were interviewed by police about the alleged attack.
Detective Senior Constable Michael Taylor told the court eight people were arrested over the matter but Mr Hersant and Mr Sewell were the only two charged.
The six others were interviewed by police and released as there was insufficient evidence to charge them–, he told the court.
However, he said he considered the investigation to be ongoing as there were a number of seized electronic devices that were yet to be analysed because police had not yet been able to access them.
Senior Detective Taylor said police were at the Cathedral Ranges on May 8 because they were told a group camping in the area that night was likely to include members of far-right groups the European Australian Movement and National Socialist Network.
Police allege Mr Sewell is the leader of the European Australian Movement, and that Mr Hersant is the leader of the National Socialist Network.
Detective Senior Constable Laura Kilpatrick told the court that she was on patrol at Cathedral Ranges State Park that day.
“It was as a public order-type response in case something was to happen,” she said.
She and her colleagues left the Cathedral Ranges at 2pm and, to her knowledge, no other officers patrolled the area. After they left they were told there had been an alleged armed robbery at the site.
Mr Sewell is accused of punching the front passenger window of the car during the alleged armed robbery, causing it to smash.
Blood was later found on the car near the passenger window. Prosecutor Danielle Guesdon said on Wednesday that blood was identified as Mr Sewell’s. The prosecution also alleged that DNA located on the dashboard of the complainant’s car belonged to Mr Hersant.
The Age revealed in January that about 40 of Mr Sewell’s group were seen in the Grampians, in western Victoria, over the Australia Day weekend, when they were heard chanting “white power” and “we are the Ku Klux Klan”.
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