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Supreme Court orders NSW Police to pay $1.48m settlement

The NSW Supreme Court has ordered the NSW Police to pay a massive settlement, as a result of a lawsuit filed by a former suspect in the William Tyrrell disappearance case.

user iconLauren Croft 02 December 2022 The Bar
Supreme Court orders NSW Police to pay $1.48m settlement
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Seventy-one-year-old Bill Spedding has won his malicious prosecution case against the NSW Police, with the court awarding him $1.48 million and ordering his costs to be paid.

The malicious prosecution case dates back to 2014, when then-three-year-old William Tyrrell disappeared from his foster grandmother’s house in regional NSW, believed to be abducted.

In early 2015, Mr Spedding was wrongly identified by NSW Police as the prime suspect in the case — failing to verify his account and ignoring other leads, before charging him with “baseless” sexual offences in April 2015 against two children, allegedly in the late 1980s; against his stepdaughter then aged six, and his biological daughter then aged three, of which he had previously been a suspect of.


After a very public arrest, Mr Spedding was imprisoned for two months before being bailed by the NSW Supreme Court. A lengthy prosecution followed, during which Mr Spedding was portrayed as a paedophile, a child abductor and a murderer.

In March 2018, he was found not guilty of all of the charges laid against him — and in 2019, Mr Spedding began proceedings to sue the NSW Police for malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office. On Thursday (1 December), Justice Ian Harrison handed down his judgment, awarding Mr Spedding $1,484,292 plus interest.

In his judgment, Justice Ian Harrison said that he was satisfied that “there was no reasonable or probable cause to institute or maintain the criminal prosecution” against Mr Spedding by NSW Police — and that the sexual assault allegations from 1987 “arose out of a malignant contest between embittered protagonists”.

“[The allegations] were exhaustively explored and considered in that setting by a well-respected and experienced judge. His conclusions were unambiguous. The material to which he made reference made it clear that the allegations of sexual assaults upon Mr Spedding’s daughters were the result of poisonous attempts by various people to manufacture heinous allegations against Mr Spedding for a collateral purpose,” His Honour said.

“The material available to the prosecutors in this case, considered as a whole and not in a piecemeal or disconnected manner, supported an overwhelming inference that the allegations of sexual assault upon his daughters against Mr Spedding were concocted and false and could not be supported.” 

In a statement following the judgment, Mr Spedding said that during the course of his persecution by the NSW Police — and the years following — his reputation was “severely and permanently damaged”.

“My family life was torn apart. Our grandkids were taken from us, and their lives have also changed forever. No sum of money will restore the life I enjoyed before this terrible nightmare. I brought this case to show that police decisions to prosecute must not be taken lightly and, more importantly, must not be taken to achieve some ulterior purpose.

“I was prosecuted for crimes I did not commit, all in the hope that my prosecution would further the police investigation of me as a suspect in the disappearance of William Tyrrell. This type of conduct engaged in by the prosecuting authorities must be deterred, and I hope that Justice Harrison’s decision today helps to achieve this purpose,” he said.

“I hope that the mystery surrounding William’s disappearance is solved quickly. And I hope that the incorrect focus upon me as a suspect has not irreparably damaged the prospect of solving this mystery.”

His Honour was also satisfied that the detectives on the case, the inspector and the director of public prosecutions “were armed with evidence that did not objectively support the institution or maintenance of the criminal proceedings against Mr Spedding”.

“If they honestly held any such frail belief, they could not have done so, and did not do so, on reasonable grounds.

“Even accepting somewhat charitably for the purposes of the argument, that the decision to prosecute was taken quickly ‘in order to protect the community from Mr Spedding as a suspected child sexual offender’, and not because it suited the strategy surrounding the investigation of the disappearance of William Tyrrell, by the time the matter eventually came on for hearing … if not well before, the officers had material that must, and certainly should, have led them to doubt the viability of the case,” Justice Harrison stated. 

“The intervening years only served to confirm the utter hopelessness of the prosecution case.”

Principal lawyer and founder of O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors, Peter O’Brien, represented Mr Spedding in the malicious prosecution case and added that the impact on the plaintiff and his family had been “enormous”.

“Mr Spedding had to deal with the anxiety and stress of the prospect of being jailed for serious offences for which he was entirely innocent. He also contended with the febrile condemnation of the community. He suffered harassment, intimidation and threats,” he said.

“The case highlights the need for the police to have an open mind to all investigations. The focus on Mr Spedding was myopic and blinkered. There was no consideration given to alternatives to his guilt. Police closed their minds to the possibility of his innocence, and the focus on him as a suspect distracted them from pursuing other leads in their investigation. It was the worst possible example of poor policing, and the damage that can be brought by it.”