Former special forces soldier Heston Russell has denied drunkenly punching a man at an inner Sydney pool party, saying he was riled by a derogatory comment about veterans’ suicides, a court has heard.
Mr Russell, 38, on Thursday faced Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court where he is battling allegations he punched the man during a heated incident at a Woolloomooloo premises on January 2 last year.
Mr Russell, a one-time Senate candidate and veterans’ advocate, has pleaded not guilty to one count of common assault.
After attending a yacht party on Sydney Harbour, a group of people - including Mr Russell - moved to the Cowper Wharf Road address for a rooftop pool party.
It is there Mr Russell is alleged to have struck his alleged victim and fellow partygoer Steven Pate on the face.
During his evidence earlier in the year, Mr Pate told the court Mr Russell threatened him by saying: “Do you want to take me on? I’ll throw you over the balcony’.”
He also said that after asking Mr Russell to go away he was hit “out of nowhere”.
Earlier in the year Mr Pate told the court that he was standing poolside with two friends – a couple he had met earlier that day – when Mr Russell came up behind them and began kissing the neck and touching the chest of one of the men, which prompted the altercation.
However, Mr Russell, during his evidence on Thursday, told the court that as he approached the group, he was met with a demand to “f*** off” and other derogatory comments.
He said he had earlier kissed one of the men at the boat party, as well as at the pool.
He said he was only then informed the man had a boyfriend and was told “you can’t force yourself onto people”.
Mr Russell said the argument became heated and he was also told: “No one gives a f*** about you and your veteran mates killing yourself.”
However, two men who were in the group, told the court on Thursday they denied overhearing that comment.
Mr Russell said that he was involved in a push-and-shove but at no point did he throw a punch.
“Absolutely not and we were that close you wouldn’t have been able to throw a punch,” Mr Russell said.
Under questioning from his solicitor Michael Bowe, he agreed that he told the men: “If you keep coming, I’ll throw you off the balcony.”
But he said that was because several men from the other group were advancing on him.
“It wasn’t a death threat,” Mr Russell said, as he conceded it was the wrong thing to say.
He agreed that he had drunk half a bottle of tequila on the day, but denied he was too intoxicated to have a clear recollection of events.
Under cross examination from police prosecutor Alex Borg, he also agreed he called the host of the pool party several days later, asking him what had happened.
Mr Russell said that was because he saw a newspaper story about the alleged assault and wanted an “objective” version of events.
Witness Christopher Hicks on Thursday told the court that he was in the group of men involved in the altercation.
Mr Hicks said that after Mr Pate asked Mr Russell to leave, Mr Russell threatened to throw him off a balcony.
“I recall Mr Russell punching Mr Pate in the head with a right hand,” Mr Hicks told the court.
Mr Hicks’ partner, Nathan Johnston, said he called two friends over as the argument became heated.
He said he saw an arm move across his face from Mr Russell’s direction, but could not confirm whether it was a punch or not.
“As it happened, an arm has come in front of my face across me and I turned my head to follow that,” Mr Johnston said.
“And when I looked over Stevie was holding somewhere on his face. And I think he said something like ‘did you just hit me?’”
Magistrate Margaret Quinn will deliver her judgment at a later date.
Earlier this year Mr Russell successfully sued the ABC for defamation and was awarded more than $400,000 in damages.