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Defence challenges woman’s claims in ex-Woodstock mayor’s trial

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The issue central to the sexual assault trial of a former Southwestern Ontario mayor might not be consent, but jealousy.

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Former Woodstock Mayor Trevor Birtch doesn’t deny his relationship with a woman who is accusing him of sexual assault was marked by rage, anger, violence, threats and jealousy.

But it wasn’t from him, he said. It was her.

Birtch, 49, testified in his own defence Tuesday at his Superior Court of Justice trial in London. He has pleaded not guilty to three charges and denied all the allegations levelled by his ex-girlfriend who says he assaulted and sexually assaulted her in 2021.

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“I want to make sure the truth is shown in this,” he said at one point during his afternoon stint in the witness box.

Birtch’s testimony came after a withering cross-examination of the woman by his defence lawyer, James Battin, who tried to poke holes in the evidence given by a highly emotional 45-year-old complainant. She disagreed with his suggestion that none of her accusations was true, tearfully said she could not remember dates and times and insisted all she ever wanted was for Birtch to get help.

She testified Birtch had assaulted her in 2021 when she refused to participate in a specific sex act on Valentine’s Day and during a summertime country drive, and when she consented to the same act in December but changed her mind during their encounter.

But Birtch said nothing of the sort happened.

Birtch, who served two terms as mayor from 2014 to 2022, when he was trounced at the polls, told Justice Michael Carnegie he was in the midst of a divorce at the time of the charges. His relationship with the complainant started out well in April 2020, but by the Valentine’s Day encounter, the woman had developed a hair-trigger temper, mostly sparked by her suspicions he was seeing other women and often fueled by alcohol.

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She sent him barrages of messages daily by text and social media and would fill his voice mail. He told assistant Crown attorney Artem Orlov he estimated by the time the relationship was over in December, 2021, she had sent him 55,000 messages.

She also punched him in the face, giving him a black eye, threw rocks at his car and threatened to have bikers deal with him if he ended their tryst, he said. Once, at his home, she flew into a rage about a phone call, throwing a vase, shattering his cellphone and leaving him with blood on his face.

“I tried so many times to let her down easy because of these threats,” Birtch said.

The Valentine’s Day incident, Birtch said, happened after he had been driving to Quebec and back while working as a “chase car” driver for a company that was delivering cement trucks.

Birtch said he told the woman he was too tired for Valentine’s Day, but she insisted he take her somewhere. At the last minute, the owner of London’s Idlewyld Inn was able to give him a room, part of a promotion during COVID when guests were kept apart and food was brought to the suites.

The couple had some time in the hot tub, before Birtch said he needed a nap. The woman, he said, who had been drinking, crawled in with him just as he was falling asleep and started cuddling, then wanted more. He resisted.

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That’s when she went into “a fit of rage,” he said. She started screaming at him, kicked him, slapped him and pulled his hair. He said he retreated to a chair and slept there. The next morning, he found cigarette butts in the bathroom and there were complaints from other guests about smoking and noise.

The woman, he said, was very upset about leaving without romance. Birtch said he told her “you’ve lost your chance at that,” before driving her home.

Birch offered more details to the summertime excursion. The couple had gone to Port Bruce that day and stopped in St. Thomas to pick up food at Taco Bell. The woman, he said, was intoxicated.

They were going to eat at her apartment until one of Birtch’s cellphones rang. The caller was “Michelle” and the complainant became enraged. “She was hitting me, pounding the dash,” he said.

“I know she felt threatened by Michelle and any other ladies I knew,” he said.

He pulled into a church driveway, hoping to calm her down by laying out their beach blanket and eating there. The woman, he said, stumbled out of the car and headed to the cornfield to urinate. He had to help her get up.

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When the phone rang again, Birtch said the woman kicked all the food on the blanket, grabbed her bag and started walking down the road. He caught up with her about five minutes later and got her into the car, after she kicked the door.

She wanted him to come up to her apartment when he drove her home, but he told her: “I don’t think it’s a good idea tonight, another time.”

Birtch said she wouldn’t get out of the car until he said yes. He agreed eventually, grabbed his keys and wallet, opened the door for her and she stumbled out onto the gravel. While she was getting up, he dashed back into the car. She threw stones and rocks at him as he drove away, he said, leaving dents in the hood.

Photos of the injuries she said she sent Birtch are exhibits at the trial. Birtch said he never saw them until Battin showed them to him while preparing his defence.

By early December, Birtch said the romantic relationship was over and he just wanted to be friends. He was living in a home he shared with his son, who didn’t like the woman.

He said he told the woman not to come over anymore and removed a ladder that reached the top of the carport where there was an exterior door into his bedroom. He put an extra lock on the door.

But that didn’t stop her, Birtch said, and pointed to a a series of text messages from her on Dec. 13, 2021, wanting to come over to his house. He said he didn’t respond.

The woman had described getting on the roof of her car and climbing up to the door. Birtch said he was in bed when she barged in, drunk, yelling about a red van that had been in his driveway. His son escorted her out and Birtch said she was never in the house again.

Cross-examination by the Crown is expected to continue Wednesday.

jsims@postmedia.com

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