Neo-Nazi leaders avoid more jail after appeal dismissed

Two neo-Nazi leaders who attacked a group of hikers will not be sent back to jail after prosecutors lost an appeal on their sentences.

Thomas Sewell, 31, and Jacob Hersant, 25, were sentenced in October 2023 after pleading guilty in the County Court to a violent affray in Victoria's Cathedral Ranges State Park.

The pair were part of a group of far-right National Socialist Network and European Australian Movement members who set upon the hikers in May 2021.

Ten to 15 men ran toward the hikers' car, concealed their identities and threatened the group of friends, including one with a knife.

Prosecutors at the time said Sewell injured his arm on a broken window, either by breaking it himself or reaching into the car, while Hersant reached through the driver's side window to either turn off the car or take the keys.

Sewell received a 37-day jail term, reckoned as time served, while Hersant was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid community work over 14 months.

The three days Hersant spent on remand were also noted in his sentence as time served.

Victoria's Director of Public Prosecutions launched an appeal of their sentences in March, with chief crown prosecutor Brendan Kissane KC arguing they were manifestly inadequate.

But the Court of Appeal on Tuesday dismissed the appeals.

In the case of Sewell, Justices Karin Emerton, Maree Kennedy and Christopher Boyce found the County Court judge did not make an error in sentencing.

The judge was entitled to treat the more than six months Sewell spent in solitary confinement while on remand as part of his punishment, the appeal judgment said.

But when it came to Hersant's sentence, the Court of Appeal ruled it was manifestly inadequate.

The court found it was obvious something went wrong in sentencing because of the "stark difference" in punishment between Hersant and Sewell.

It was not reasonable that Hersant received a three-day jail term and a corrections order while his co-offender served six months in solitary confinement, the judgment said.

However, the court ruled it would be counterproductive to send Hersant back to prison as he was a young offender and he had already completed his ordered hours of community service.

Outside court, Sewell told reporters the court's decision was a "great victory".

Hersant is facing separate charges of intentionally performing the Nazi salute outside the County Court following his sentence in October 2023.