Terror accused's mum sheds tears at his trial
Despite staring down the rifle of an unstable, ranting alleged terrorist, a dive shop worker said he chose to be kind even offering his captor a bottle of water.
A routine work day for Neil Hay turned dramatic when Simon William Fleming is accused of entering the Windang Dive & Spearfishing premises on the morning of November 28, 2021 to take hostages.
"Sorry, you're the only ones open," he said to Mr Hay.
The casual dive shop worker, who remained in the store with Fleming for about an hour, chose not to upset him, instead asking if he needed help and then providing some water before he was let go.
Mr Hay described the scene to a NSW Supreme Court jury on Tuesday, saying Fleming appeared "unstable" as he barricaded himself in the shop, in suburban Wollongong.
"I didn't want to antagonise him because he was highly agitated," he said.
With a bolt-action rifle, a replica gel blaster military rifle and a mock bomb, Fleming muttered to himself and ranted about how Australia was a communist police state where its citizens were controlled without their knowledge.
The dive shop's owner Keith Woods was also allegedly held hostage but was let go early, leaving Mr Hay alone inside with Fleming.
"Mr Hay, you're to be commended for your calmness and your kindness on that day," said Justice Helen Wilson.
Earlier that morning, retired army veteran Keith Rule was driving through the area and said he saw Fleming at an intersection firing his rifle and pointing it at another car.
"I had a quick thought about running him over," he told the jury.
Deciding not to because there was a chance Fleming could fire and hit his wife, Mr Rule said the couple pulled over at a petrol station.
He then followed Fleming on foot, yelling at him.
"Oi dickhead, what do you think you're f***ing doing? This is Windang. Put the f***ing weapon down," he shouted at Fleming.
The Crown alleges Fleming's actions were a case of terrorism, motivated by a desire to intimidate the Australian public and the government.
He is contesting the charge that he was motivated by terrorism, as well as charges for using a firearm in a manner likely to endanger members of the public, detaining the hostages, using a fake bomb to create a false sense of danger and unlawfully possessing gel blasters found at his home.
His mother Carol Fleming said her son had been suffering withdrawals from pain medication which no longer worked as intended for 15 years before the incident at the dive shop.
"Sometimes he would be in tears and begging for help. Quite often he wanted to die," she said.
Expressing a keen interest in religions, Fleming converted to Catholicism in 2018 and claimed he had seen the Shroud of Turin, purported to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ bearing his face, in a cloud.
Previously a loner, Fleming found friendship in Bible studies and drew calligraphy for those he knew through the church until COVID-19 lockdowns removed face-to-face meet-ups.
Mrs Fleming, who frequently broke down in tears in the witness box, said she was never told by doctors that her son had a mental illness but knew because of the medication he took and reports she had seen.
Body-worn footage played to the jury showed frantic chatter between police officers as they tried to safely deal with the situation before Fleming surrendered and was arrested.
During negotiations with police, he demanded that "all face masks be removed from Australia".
The court previously heard that in his manifesto he railed against migrants, transgender people, the Chinese and left-wing Marxists and claimed he wanted to fire a "warning shot" to the government.
The trial continues.
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