William Tyrell’s Disappearance: What Are the Proposed New Charges and Will the DPP Prosecute?

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William Tyrell

One of the many theories behind 3-year old William Tyrrell’s disappearance in 2014 could see his foster mother charged with fresh criminal offences.

The investigation into the toddler’s disappearance is not Australia’s longest running investigation, but one of the country’s most high profile. 

Few of us forget the picture of a smiling boy in a spider man suit that has graced TV, newspapers and social media for the past twelve years. 

Despite extensive searches around the area, which have been ravaged in separate incidents by both fires and floods, as well as hours spent questioning family, friends, neighbours, people living in the small town of Kendall in New South Wales and also potential witnesses, detectives have never given up – keeping the case open and vowing to find out what happened to the toddler.

Did William die in an accident? 

Over the past several years, police have been quietly investigating a number of theories, and earlier this month handed a brief of evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in relation to William’s foster mother, recommending she be charged with perverting the course of justice and interfering with a corpse.

The charges are the result of investigations into allegations that there was a deadly accident at the home in Kendall, and that William’s body was subsequently disposed of by his foster mother. 

Last year, William’s foster mother was charged with knowingly giving false or misleading evidence to the New South Wales Crime Commission, which is often tasked with investigating serious criminal activity. 

The offence for which she was charged is contained in section 307B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) and carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

The DPP will now decide whether there is sufficient evidence for the stepmother (who cannot be named for legal reasons) to be prosecuted for the recommended offences.

She has always denied any involvement and it should be borne in mind she is entitled to the presumption of innocence until and unless she is found to be guilty by a court of law.

It should also be be noted that several suspects have each been identified and later cleared over the years.

So, what are the offences now recommended by the police?

Perverting the course of justice  

Perverting the course of justice is an offence under section 319 of the Crimes Act 1900 which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

To establish this offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

The accused person engaged in an act or made an omission, and by that act or omission, intended to pervert the course of justice. 

Perverting the course of justice is defined as ‘obstructing, preventing, perverting or defeating the course of justice or the administration of law’.

Some examples of perverting the course of justice include: 

  • Attempting to bribe a police or judicial officer to avoid being prosecuted or punished,
  • Falsely swearing or declaring that another person was responsible for an offence,
  • Encouraging or bribing another person to plead guilty to a crime they did not commit, and
  • to provide a false alibi, or give false testimony in court.

Misconduct with regard to a corpse 

The act of interfering with a course is covered by an offence titled misconduct with regard to corpses in section 81C of the Crimes Act 1900, and carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused person indecently interfered with any dead human body, or improperly interfered with, or offered any indignity to, any dead human body or human remains. 

The word ‘indecent’ has been defined as, “contrary to the ordinary standards of respectable people in this community”.

‘Interfere’ has been defined as including, “altering, defacing, removing, obliterating, concealing or adding anything to”.

And an ‘indignity’ may be caused where the appropriate respect is not afforded to the body or remains.

The decision regarding whether to prosecute

The DPP will now examine the brief received from investigating police and decide whether a prosecution is in the public interest.

The assessment will take a range of factors into consideration, including whether the available evidence is capable of establishing each element (or part) of the recommended offences to the criminal standard of proof, which is beyond a reasonable doubt.

These decisions can take weeks or even months and, during the process, the DPP may send requisitions to police for further material, further investigations and/or clarification on the materials received.

Many hope the truth will finally come to light and William will be able to have some semblance of justice.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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