A MAN has been accused of sending a letter putting a price of up to £50,000 on the heads of 57 Labour councillors during a high-profile industrial dispute involving teaching assistants in County Durham.

David Lindsay, from Lanchester, denies sending the letter, which was sent to Durham Police's chief constable Mike Barton in February 2017, ahead of local government elections in May.

The 41-year-old, of Foxhills Crescent, also denies a second charge of perverting the course of justice, which was added to the indictment after several letters were sent from the US, which purported a threat to the life of Mr Lindsay if he were acquitted of the initial charge.

Peter Sabiston, prosecuting, told Durham Crown Court: "The letter to the police names 57 members of Durham County Council, saying a price would be put on their heads if they should seek re-election.

"The council were Labour members who had voted for a review of pay and conditions of teaching assistants employed by Durham County Council. That would result in a reduction of pay for those relevant members of staff.

"One of those members of staff happened to be the defendant's mother."

Among those named in the letter was council leader Simon Henig.

The Northern Echo:

Durham County Council leader Simon Henig was named in the letter

A £20,000 contract was put on the heads of some councillors, rising to £30,000, £40,000 and £50,000 for others.

Mr Sabiston told the jury a number of phrases and words used within the letter had also been used by Mr Lindsay in blog posts and social media - including "blood will be blood", and references to Palestine, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kashmir and the Cuban revolution.

He said: "This is more than just coincidence that words used in the letter were words used in his regular blog posts. These are all unusual terms that appear in Mr Lindsay's blog posts. It's not just coincidence."

The court also heard some of the phrases were also used in a letter written by Mr Lindsay, which was published in the Northern Echo's Hear All Sides in March 2017, on the topic of the teaching assistants dispute.

Durham Police analysed two years' worth of blog posts and social media messages written by Mr Lindsay, a summary of which has been given to the jury.

The court heard four fingerprints belonging to Mr Lindsay's had been found on the letter, while three had been found on the envelope.

During a police interview, Mr Lindsay said he had not sent the letter, though he did support the campaign for Durham teaching assistants.

His explanation for his fingerprints being present was that he used the library at Clayport, in Durham, and must have handled someone else's letter.

The Northern Echo:

David Lindsay, outside court today

In relation to the other charge, the court heard letters had been sent to Mr Lindsay and Father Cornelius O'Connor and Reverend Rupert Kalus, who are both priests in Lanchester.

They were traced to Minnesota resident Matthew Cooper, who is due to give evidence via video link tomorrow. The court heard Mr Cooper and Mr Lindsay had known each other since 2010 and that Mr Cooper had been asked to send the letters.

Mr Sabiston said: "He had sent those letters to America to be sent back to the UK, thinking he could cover his tracks."

"The police were able to do a thorough investigation. They were able to trace the origin of the letters."

He said an email had been sent from Mr Lindsay to Mr Cooper, which contained an attachment with the letter, which was printed and posted to the UK. The letters to the ministers were received in late November 2017.

As a result, Mr Lindsay's trial on the first charge, scheduled for December 2017, was abandoned.

Mr Sabiston said: "It's our submission he sent those letters in order to derail the trial."

When police asked about the letters, Mr Lindsay said he had not sent them and he did not know who had.

The trial continues.