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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