12:00AM September 3, 2016
Police who are investigating the disappearance of three-year-old William Tyrrell from the NSW mid-north coast have identified hundreds of “persons of interest” to their inquiry and have called in other squads of detectives to help rule out many of these names. As only a few of these people were previously identified by the press, the real scale of the investigation has not been revealed before.
With the second anniversary of William’s disappearance falling later this month, The Weekend Australian can also reveal that NSW Premier Mike Baird has personally promised the boy’s parents and police involved to provide any resource the investigation needs.
The inquiry has deeply affected those living in and around the small town of Kendall, where William was last seen, particularly after police announced that they were investigating “a pedophile ring that may be operating” in the area.
“It’s close to home now. It makes you wonder whether someone’s covering for someone,” said Alison Copelin, a mother of three.
“You start to second-guess people that you probably wouldn’t have second-guessed before,” said another local woman, Linda Hoffman.
“They call it a ring. I don’t know if that is true, but it is hard because it just pricks your ears up … to what’s happening around you. And not just your own kids.”
A police strikeforce, codenamed Rosann and consisting of 14 detectives and analysts, is working full-time on the search for William from a base in Port Macquarie, 35km from Kendall.
Given the scale of the operation, which has focused on people with links to the former timber town or William, it is possible detectives have already interviewed the person or persons involved.
Such is the workload that other detectives from several specialist squads within the NSW Police Force’s State Crime Command have been asked to investigate many persons of interest identified as low-priority targets by the strikeforce. The rest are being pursued by Rosann investigators.
NSW police won’t comment on the investigation ahead of the anniversary of William’s disappearance on September 12, when they are expected to join his parents in another public appeal for information about what took place.
William was last seen wearing his favourite Spider-Man suit and playing with his four-year-old sister in the garden of their grandmother’s home outside Kendall.
His father, a consultant, left the house earlier to make a business call and William’s mother and grandmother sat outside the house while the children played. None of the adults can be named.
At about 10.30am, William’s mother went inside to make a cup of tea before realising she could no longer hear her son. A search of the surrounding bush using police, SES and local volunteers was mounted over several days without finding any trace of William.
Police were initially uncertain how he could have been taken from the dead-end road, particularly as the family had arrived only a day earlier, meaning few people, if any, knew they were in the area.
Despite this, detectives believe William was probably abducted, although they see this as more likely being an impulsive decision by those involved rather than a planned attack. In April last year, Homicide Squad commander Mick Willing said “recent information we have received … relates to a pedophile ring that may be operating” in the area around Kendall.
“We are vigorously pursuing that line of inquiry … this investigation is moving forward at a very fast pace,” he said.
Two months later, a national Where’s William? campaign was launched, hoping to provoke people to come forward with information about the case.
Mr Baird approached William’s family and police involved in the search during a campaign event in NSW’s Parliament House, promising his government would provide any resource required to mount an effective search.
Over the past two years, a handful of persons of interest has been named in the press, though each has said he had nothing to do with what took place. These include convicted sex offenders from the area, some with links to each other.
The first person of interest publicly named was Bill Spedding, a local whitegoods repairman whose home and business were searched after William’s disappearance. In September, he posted an online video declaring his innocence of any involvement in what took place.
He has previously said he is innocent of all the alleged crimes.
His close friend, Colin Youngberry, said: “It’ll come out that Bill’s totally innocent of the lot.
“You follow that angle, mate, and you’ll be spot on. I guarantee you that one.”
Highlighted - this mirrors what has been going on with SY/PJ investigation into the disappearance of MM, except that the latter's enquiries are international.