Ex-mayor wins blackmail attempt appeal

By Margaret Scheikowski
Former state MP and Ryde mayor Ivan Petch's conviction for attempted blackmail has been overturned

Former Ryde mayor Ivan Petch who's served most of his sentence for trying to blackmail a senior colleague has had his conviction overturned by NSW appeal court judges.

The now 80-year-old was found guilty in 2018 of making an unwarranted demand with menaces with the intention of influencing the exercise of public duty while working as City of Ryde mayor in May 2013 in suburban Sydney.

He was sentenced in the District Court to two years' imprisonment, to be served in the community by way of an intensive correction order which is subject to various conditions.

The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal on Friday quashed his conviction and entered a verdict of acquittal.

Mr Petch, who is also a former state MP, was accused of telling the then-acting council general manager Danielle Dickson to settle a court costs case in a way favourable to him as she would need his help to permanently retain her position.

The appeal court found the trial judge erred by admitting evidence of Ms Dickson as to her opinion of Mr Petch's state of mind when he uttered the words found to amount to an attempt at blackmail.

In quashing the conviction, the court considered whether to order a re-trial, noting the public interest in prosecuting people who allegedly used their high public office to commit an offence.

But Justices Clifton Hoeben, Peter Hamill and Richard Cavanagh said the case had unusual and compelling features.

Mr Petch was now 80, there had been a five-year delay in bringing him to trial and he had already served more than three-quarters of the intensive corrections order.

"By the time of any retrial, eight or nine years will have elapsed since the offence was allegedly committed," Justice Hamill said.

Mr Petch also had been "subject to public scrutiny and opprobrium" during prior proceedings before the Independent Commission Against Corruption.