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Alleged thief told bizarre tales: court

Tuesday, 12th March, 2013

By Craig Brealey

A White Cliffs post office manager has told the Local Court of how she was allegedly taken in by a man's bizarre tales of derring-do as an undercover police officer.

Gaye Nicholls, who had moved from Sydney to take over the lease of the post office in 2007, eventually employed Michael Kooyman as a clerk until last year when police arrested him and charged him with stealing and other offences.

Mr Kooyman (54) has pleaded guilty to giving misleading information in order to obtain a clearance to work as a postal clerk but is contesting other charges of larceny, stealing as a clerk and impersonating a Commonwealth public official.

Yesterday when the hearing opened, Ms Nichols gave evidence that she was overwhelmed by the work at the post office which was also an agency for Centrelink, the shire council, the banks and the Bureau of Meteorology.

She was only a few months into the job and therefore appreciated the offer of a helping hand from Mr Kooyman, whom she said was "working on a camp" just outside of the township.

He fixed a computer for her and then offered to do more unpaid work such as reporting the weather conditions to the bureau, Ms Nicholls said, and this had allowed her to have the weekends off.

Slowly, Mr Kooyman had begun to hint that he was involved in secret operations for the Australian Federal Police and that he was reporting on bikie gangs and criminals in White Cliffs and Wilcannia, Ms Nicholls told the court.

"At one point he went away and came back in an agitated state. He said a colleague in Wilcannia had been stabbed," she said.

His colleague, "Sharon", was a fellow undercover operative and she had been knifed in the stomach, Mr Kooyman allegedly said.

"He said he had to follow the assailants who were heading into Broken Hill at 140 kilometres an hour and that he had caught up with them in Little Topar," said Ms Nicholls.

There he "created a ruckus" so that the local police had to be called. This resulted in everyone being arrested, including the assailants, and Mr Kooyman was able to "get a confession out of them," she said.

He also allegedly often spoke on the phone to a man called "Clive", his superior in the outback undercover op.

Ms Nicholls said she never met Clive or Sharon; Mr Kooyman had explained that undercover operatives never acknowledged each other in public, she said.

One day he told her that he had to sever their relationship because his superiors in Canberra had told him that it was placing her in danger, she said.

It was either that, or he could move into her post office residence to give her more protection.

Mr Kooyman moved in and Ms Nicholls said he was "very helpful" with balancing the books at the end of each day and that he volunteered to work free behind the counter, although the locals didn't appear to like seeing him there, she said.

At night he would spend hours at the dining table, writing his reports on a computer for the Federal Police.

Asked by Police Prosecutor Sergeant Brad Scanlan if she had ever read any of these reports, Ms Nicholls said she didn't want to "snoop" but had seen one that she described as a "vile diatribe.., dirty talk, pornography".

Mr Kooyman's explanation was that he had to write in code and that the porn code was one of three that he employed, Ms Nicholls said.

He also often played war games on the computer, but these were actually another part of the encryption process, he allegedly told her.

Ms Nicholls said she had confided her knowledge of Mr Kooyman's secret identity to two friends in White Cliffs, partly to explain her association with a "creepy looking bum living out on a camp".

The hearing before Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy was adjourned to June 12 when Ms Nicholls will continue her evidence.

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