Former Bathurst mayor on trial over anonymous letter

·3-min read
Murray McCloskey/AAP PHOTOS

A $2.5 million loan, a go-kart track, a community op-shop and an "unusual" anonymous letter are at the centre of the trial for a former country NSW mayor accused of blackmail.

Robert William Bourke, who served as the Bathurst mayor, is accused of misconduct in public office over a letter sent to Councillor Jacqui Rudge, which said people were aware of her history of mental illness and she should "stand down".

Mr Bourke has pleaded not guilty to misconduct and an alternative charge of demanding with menace to influence a public official over the March 2020 letter.

The NSW District Court trial on Monday heard Mr Bourke and Ms Rudge were friends before he encouraged her to run as number two on the "team Bourke" ticket at the 2017 council election.

But Ms Rudge said she did not always support Mr Bourke's motions to council, including voting against a $2.5 million loan for part of a go-kart track on Mount Panorama.

Ms Rudge told the court Mr Bourke had offered her the role of deputy mayor when he ran for the top job in 2019, but she turned it down and did note vote for him.

There was also conflict between the two over signage at the council-owned op-shop Mr Bourke ran, the court heard.

Their relationship soured to the point where Mr Bourke said he was under pressure to get her off council.

"(He said) the other councillors wanted to get rid of me, he brought me on council and it was up to him to get me off council," Ms Rudge told the court, sitting in Orange.

On March 12, 2020, Ms Rudge found a letter in her mailbox using her title of councillor, something she found "unusual" as formal letters were usually sent to council chambers.

"It was saying that I had mental health issues and that I wasn't able to continue my position as a councillor," Ms Rudge said.

After Ms Rudge's husband gave the letter to police, a senior officer rang her to say it had been destroyed.

"(He said) 'Jacqui, you're not going to like what I'm going to tell you'. He said the envelope and the letter had been shredded."

Crown prosecutor Paul Kerr said the jury could expect to hear Mr Bourke's campaign manager Darryl Leahey say he - not the former mayor - wrote the letter.

The trial will hear Mr Bourke asked one op-shop volunteer to buy a stamped envelope and another to write on the envelope and post the letter, Mr Kerr said.

He said the jury would have to consider if the letter was a "threat of blackmail", whether Mr Bourke knew what it said and if it was in connection with his role as mayor.

Mr Bourke's barrister, Peter Skinner, said Mr Bourke told police he did not know about the contents of the letter.

The trial continues on Tuesday.

beyondblue 1300 22 4636