New South Wales detectives investigating the 2014 disappearance of toddler William Tyrrell have recently handed over a brief of evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), recommending that criminal charges be brought against William’s foster mother.
The recommended charges are perverting the course of justice and interfering with a corpse, but it is now a matter for the DPP as to whether these charges will be filed.
The move has raised questions as to why police have not brought the charges themselves, given they certainly have the power to do so.
Reports that the seemingly flimsy theory behind the charges was leaked by police themselves have led many to believe that the latest ‘breakthrough’ is a police publicity stunt – a way for police to be seen as making progress in a case they have bungled for years, before throwing their hands in the air to the effect of ‘well, we did all we could’ in the event the DPP then decides not to bring charges due to insufficient evidence, thereby painting themselves as the ‘good guys’ and the DPP as hampering all of their good efforts.
Police famously destroyed the reputation, business, mental health and financial resources of washing machine repairman Bill Spedding by pursuing a malicious prosecution against him over William’s death. There was no evidence Mr Spedding was ever involved, but police made sure to fabricate evidence and feed mistruths to the media to make it look like he was. Mr Spedding ultimately sued police over the malicious prosecution and was awarded nearly $1.5 million in damages; money that was paid by the state’s taxpayers.
The latest theory is that William was not abducted and murdered by Mr Spedding or anyone else, but that the toddler fell to his death from his foster mother’s second floor balcony , and that his foster mother then disposed of William’s body.
It is a curious theory given William’s body has never been found despite several exhaustive searches in and around the foster mother’s home and beyond.
There are a number of criminal offences which require the DPP’s approval to prosecute, including perjury and a number of other offences against public justice, as well as several offences involving public officials.
But as stated, the recommended offences of perverting the course of justice and interfering with a corpse do not require such approval, and police have jurisdiction to bring these charges without consulting the DPP.
That said, police will on rare occasion refer certain complex and serious cases to the DPP for assessment as to whether the admissible evidence that is available at the time is sufficient to justify a prosecution – so as not to unnecessarily expend resources on a prosecution with little likelihood of success.
The will then decide whether charges should be brought – as well as whether charges brought by itself or by police should continue.
In that regard, prosecutorial guidelines prescribe several criteria which must be satisfied before a case will be brought or contunue, including whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and whether the prosecution is in the public interest.
In deciding whether to commence or continue with a prosecution, the DPP will assess whether the evidence is sufficient to prove each element (or ingredient) of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt, as well as whether it is likely to overcome any legal defences that arise from the circumstances of the case.
The offence of perverting the course of justice
Section 319 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) outlines the offence of perverting the course of justice. This offence requires a person to engage in an act (or an omission) intending to pervert the course of justice.
The maximum penalty for this offence is imprisonment for 14 years.
Under section 312 of the Act, ‘perverting the course of justice’ is defined as obstructing, preventing, perverting or defeating the course of justice or the administration of law.
Examples of perverting the course of justice include making false allegations to police, providing misleading information to throw off an investigation or bribing investigators or court officials.
The offence of interfering with a corpse
Section 81C of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) outlines the offence of ‘misconduct with regard to corpses’ which is commonly referred to as ‘interfering with a corpse’.
This offence will be committed if a person, either:
- Indecently interfered with any dead human body, or
- Improperly interfered with, or offered any indignity to, any dead human body or human remains.
‘Interfere’ has been defined as including, ‘altering, defacing, removing, obliterating, concealing or adding anything to’.
Interference with a corpse will be ‘indecent’ if it is contrary to the ordinary standards of respectable people in this community.
The allegations cited in the media are that Tyrell’s foster mother disposed of the body of the toddler after an accidental death.