The Courier-Mail

SE­NIORS GROUPS LINKED TO WILL

Cops probe so­cial net­work

- TAY­LOR AUER­BACH

A PE­DOPHILE ring po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing in re­la­tion to the sus­pected ab­duc­tion of tod­dler Wil­liam Tyrrell has been linked to a net­work of grand­par­ents’ so­cial groups on the NSW mid-north coast that is par­tially funded by the state gov­ern­ment.

Nearly a year to the day since the now four-year-old van­ished from his grand­mother’s home at Kendall, south of Part Mac­quarie,

The Courier-Mail can re­veal de­tec­tives are prob­ing an or­gan­i­sa­tion called GAPA, which stands for Grand­par­ents As Par­ents Again, formed by bby Unit­ingCare Burn­side and the Cou Coun­tryt Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion.

The group re­ceived a $15,000 grant from the for­mer NSW La­bor gov­ern­ment un­der their ex­pres­i­dent’s ten­ure.

He has since been con­victed of in­de­cently as­sault­ing a young girl.

Since Wil­liam went miss­ing last Septem­ber 12, two mem­bers of GAPA – in­clud­ing the for­mer pres­i­dent – have been charged with in­de­cently as­sault­ing chil­dren. While po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the group as one line of in­quiry, no cur­rent group or break­away group mem­bers are per­sons of in­ter­est in Wil­liam’s case or are sus­pected of hav­ing abused chil­dren.

Paul Bick­ford, who stepped down as GAPA pres­i­dent for “fam­ily rea­sons” last year, is serv­ing a 16-month sus­pended sen­tence for in­de­cently as­sault­ing an 11-year-old girl who suf­fers from Asperger’s syn­drome dur­ing a drive to the shops to buy her lol­lies.

The vic­tim’s mother said her daugh­ter had been deeply scarred by the or­deal and re­mains “volatile”.

Another GAPA mem­ber, An­thony Jones, is be­hind bars and await­ing a Septem­ber 14 sen­tenc­ing for in­de­cently as­sault­ing a dif­fer­ent 11-year-old child.

Both men were ar­rested and charged in the time fol­low­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of Wil­liam.

Both pleaded guilty to touch­ing their young vic­tims on their gen­i­tal ar­eas. More se­ri­ous charges, in­clud­ing child rape, were dropped against Jones.

The Courier-Mail can re­veal mem­bers of GAPA, as well as the pres­i­dent of a break­away group, have been in­ter­viewed by homi­cide de­tec­tives in­ves­ti­gat­ing Wil­liam’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

The fam­i­lies of both Bick­ford and Jones have been quizzed on their knowl­edge of any con­nec­tion, if any, be­tween Wil­liam’s dis­ap­pear­ance and a pe­dophile ring op­er­at­ing in the re­gion. Po­lice re­vealed in April they were ex­am­in­ing the pos­si­bil­ity a pe­dophile ring was be­hind Wil­liam’s ab­duc­tion.

“As grand­par­ents we all feel for Wil­liam’s fam­ily and the fact he was ab­ducted from his grand­mother’s home is just aw­ful,” Mer­i­lyn O’Neill, the pres­i­dent of one of the groups, told

The Courier-Mail.

GAPA pres­i­dent Ann Bat­tishall said the group re­quired all mem­bers to have work­ing-with-chil­dren checks.

 ??  ?? SEARCH: Miss­ing tod­dler Wil­liam Tyrrell; (insets) Paul Bick­ford and Tony Jones.
SEARCH: Miss­ing tod­dler Wil­liam Tyrrell; (insets) Paul Bick­ford and Tony Jones.

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