Mayor's friend 'wrote anonymous letter in desperation'

·2-min read
Murray McCloskey/AAP PHOTOS

A journalist went to the former Bathurst mayor's backyard to write about solar panel recycling, but ended up with an in-depth interview about an alleged blackmail plot.

The trial of former mayor Robert Bourke, who is accused of misconduct in public office over an anonymous letter sent to a councillor, on Tuesday heard journalist Murray Nicholls' recorded interview with Bourke and his friend Darryl Leahey.

Mr Nicholls, who worked for the Western Advocate newspaper, told the NSW District Court Bourke called him in October 2021 to come to his house for a story about solar panels being removed from his roof for recycling.

When he arrived the former mayor was in his backyard with tradespeople including Mr Leahey, who was also Bourke's campaign manager at the 2017 council elections.

Mr Nicholls told court he heard lots of rumours that Mr Leahey was the author of the anonymous letter sent to Councillor Jacqui Rudge's home in March 2020, which said she should stand down and that people knew about her history of mental illness.

The letter became the subject of Western Advocate stories and a segment on the ABC's 7.30 program in mid-2021.

During the October interview, Mr Nicholls said it would be remiss of him not to ask Mr Leahey about the rumours around town..

Mr Leahey said he wrote it in "desperation" because Ms Rudge had stopped communicating with the men and amid tension over a council proposal about a go-kart track on top of Mount Panorama.

"I should've put my name on it ... she was a real problem and still is," Mr Leahey was heard to say in the interview played to the court in Orange on Tuesday.

"The letter said 'go and get help', it also said 'you are not fit, step down from your position at council'."

Bourke denies knowing about the contents of the letter and has pleaded not guilty to misconduct and an alternative charge of demanding with menace to influence a public official.

The jury has been told they can expect to hear evidence Bourke, who ran a community op-shop, asked a volunteer employee to buy a stamped envelope and another to write on the envelope and post the letter to Ms Rudge.

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

The trial continues on Wednesday. 

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