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The Mayor’s Campaign Against a Local Charity Worker and Her Withdrawn APVO

Sep 27, 2023

On April 17, 2019 then-Councillor Sarah Richards – now Mayor Sarah McMahon – visited Windsor Police Station. 

Her mission was to secure an provisional Apprehended Personal Violence Order (APVO) against a local resident, Peter “Curly” Nicholson. These can be surprisingly easy to obtain, and she was successful.

Fast forward four years, and Nicholson finds himself grappling with physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Medication and professional help have become part of his life, combating anxiety and depression stemming partly from what he describes as the “vexatious” actions of the Mayor, in her ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of an APVO against him.  

“It’s been pretty hard mentally, and I’ve lost any real enthusiasm for working in the community. I used to love getting out and making a difference, but having that weaponised and portrayed as stalking was really upsetting. I don’t do any volunteer work now as a result,” Nicholson told the Hawkesbury Post.

While there was no basis for the APVO Pete’s life has been turned upside down.

Before this ordeal, Nicholson was a well-liked and engaged community member, deeply involved in various initiatives. He contributed to a Bushcare group that secured the “Rookies of the Year” award in 2019, participated in Clean Up Australia Day, he was part of the now-defunct McGraths Hill Residents Association, and helped raise funds for kids cancer charity, Camp Quality. Nicholson’s commitment to the community even led him to appear in a volunteer video for the Hawkesbury City Council.

In 2020 Nicholson was personally nominated for the 2020 Hawkesbury Australia Day Awards – Local Hero and Environmental Award. When he found out Cr McMahon was trying to ban him from the awards ceremony, Nicholson contacted Hawkesbury Council’s then General Manager Peter Conroy, to let him know he and his partner would not attend to avoid any “histrionics,” with Cr McMahon.

Close friend Vicky Russell, who had lived next door to Nicholson for two decades, described him as a “wonderful person” who was passionate about his community. She was disgusted when Cr McMahon tried to obtain a provisional APVO against him.

“Pete’s a wonderful person. Warm-hearted, generous, will do anything for anybody, happy, loves his music, loves tinkering with lawn mowers. Just a genuinely nice person,” Russell said, adding, “To do what she’s done is just out there. I mean, if you want to get into politics, just harden up,” she said.

Before the APVO Pete was heavily involved in volunteer work and even appeared in a Hawkesbury City Council video celebrating volunteers.

After the APVO attempt, Russell noticed a significant change in Nicholson; “We used to go out every Friday night and meet, and we’d have drinks. He’d stop going there, he’d stop going out, he’d stop playing his music. He was afraid to go anywhere in case she made more allegations against him, even though they were lies. It really quite affected him,” she said.

The application for the APVO appeared to be part of a concerted effort to prevent Nicholson from attending council meetings. In a statement submitted as evidence by Conroy, it was revealed that Cr McMahon had inquired in an email dated June 21, 2018, about the process to ban a member of the public from entering the council chamber. “Can you please tell me what it takes to get a member of the public banned from entering the chamber?” she asked. 

Subsequently, she continued to make unsupported claims, including one about Nicholson taking photographs of her car in the main street of Windsor. However, no evidence surfaced to substantiate these claims, McMahon has never offered any and Nicholson vehemently denied such actions in a sworn statement.

According to Michael Bradley, Managing Partner at Marque Lawyers, there is a low threshold for police to issue an interim APVO, often relying on the word of the complainant. He noted that police discretion is broad because the APVO is designed as an interim protective measure, with a low evidentiary threshold. Bradley noted that APVOs rely on the balance of probabilities, rather than any criminal standards.

“Things can arise where what they’ve been told isn’t true or is exaggerated but they’ve still done the right thing by issuing it because the backstop to that is it goes to court and can’t be maintained unless it’s properly substantiated,” Bradley said.

Surprisingly, the interim orders were issued via fax from Parramatta Court, rather than the local Windsor Court. Cr McMahon justified this by claiming that the resident’s proximity to her residence caused her fear and risk of harm. Yet, Cr McMahon had moved into the neighbourhood just the previous year, aware that Nicholson lived in the area. 

Nicholson had previously lodged a formal Code of Conduct complaint against Cr McMahon, after an incident at a town meeting in Maraylya in August 2017. Nicholson said he witnessed Cr McMahon encouraging people to rabble-rouse councillors and staff who were present at the meeting including McMahon’s political rival at the time, then Mayor Mary-Lyons Buckett. The incident resulted in the police being called. 

Nicholson said that as well as the APVO threat, Cr McMahon and her partner, local property developer Matthew Bennett, also made verbal and written threats against him. One such threat came in the form of a Facebook message from Bennett, on September 9, 2018, in which he threatened Nicholson with legal action unless he removed online content within 10 minutes. The content referred to was a photo of Bennett’s car in Cr McMahon’s driveway, prior to them officially becoming a couple.

“You have 10 mins. Take it down or you will be bankrupted in legal cases for years ahead. It has been screenshot by so many people that defamation issues are now huge. My Lawyer is Sam Delaney, a Partner at Corrs Chambers. Google him. He is contacting you at 9am tomorrow morning. No alcoholic local lawyers on my side. 10 minutes or you will be selling all your assets for legal costs,” Bennett warned in a Facebook Messenger message sent to Nicholson and seen by the Hawkesbury Post.

Nicholson says that he neither knew who took the photo, nor who posted it. He added that the threat was also received by others who Bennett clearly thought may have posted and while Cr McMahon was finalising her divorce. 

The case dragged on – Nicholson believes deliberately by Cr McMahon – facing six adjournments before finally reaching Parramatta Court on December 16, 2020.  Despite witnesses for the resident attending court, no witnesses were present for Cr McMahon, so it was adjourned.

At the final court date in June 2020 Cr McMahon failed to attend the hearing application and the provisional APVO was withdrawn by the police. The magistrate was highly critical of the lack of evidence supporting the case and the fact that it had proceeded as far as it did. 

Pete no longer partakes in volunteering including his beloved Bushcare work.

Despite this, Cr McMahon has continued to make false allegations against Nicholson on social media. In a recent post on the Mayor’s official rate-payer funded Facebook page on 18 August, she made a bizarre post, alleging the theft of her garbage bins, insinuating a connection with Nicholson and separately the Hawkesbury Post publishers. 

 “Could that possibly be the same person that the NSW police helped me to put an interim APVO on for 12 months [due to her own delays] to stop him stalking and harassing me and my family?” she wrote. The furphy here is the interim APVO evaporated the minute police withdrew the claim. Effectively, Nicholson was found to be innocent. There is no record of the alleged APVO on a police check of the resident. There is no evidence that Nicholson “stalked” her. There is no evidence he has ever had anything to do with her family.

Under normal circumstances, police only withdraw APVO applications if the applicant dies, relocates interstate, or the applicant – in this case Cr McMahon – was found to have exaggerated the need for such orders.

“Apart from a small group of Liberal trolls I’ve had wonderful support from the community, including people I would never have thought cared. I’ve had people contact me regularly to see how I’m doing and others who helped with advice directly related to the case. They’ve made a huge difference and I’m eternally grateful for what they’ve done,” Nicholson said.

Cr McMahon refused to answer questions from the Hawkesbury Post. She continues to try and weaponise the Apprehended Violence Orders system, meant for real victims in need.

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