The forgotten man whose life was also forever changed the day William disappeared

As the tangled web surrounding the disappearance of little William Tyrrell continues to unfold, there’s one “person of interest” unfairly and indelibly linked to the tragedy. writes Madonna King

Nov 18, 2021, updated Nov 18, 2021
Bill and Margaret Spedding have had to move homes several times since Bill was wrongly accused. Photo: ABC/Four Corners

Bill and Margaret Spedding have had to move homes several times since Bill was wrongly accused. Photo: ABC/Four Corners

Imagine, just for a moment, you’re an ordinary bloke. You’ve retired, pretty much, but earn a quid fixing washing machines in a little country town in regional Australia.

You and your wife Margaret live a fairly anonymous life, except when it involves your grandchildren.

They’re the apple of your eye. Make your world go round. Bring a smile on any day. And on this day, you feel a few centimetres taller; you’ve been invited to attend a school assembly to see one of them receive an award.

You have a late breakfast with Margaret at a cafe – a ham and cheese croissant and a couple of cappuccinos – just across the road from the school, leaving plenty of time to be there by 10.30am. You grab a receipt on your way out.

It’s September 12, 2014. Life’s good.

Twenty minutes’ drive away, at about the same time, a young boy called William Tyrrell vanishes from his grandmother’s home. And all hell breaks out.

You first hear it that night, on the television news, and later realise you had been to that home three days earlier to fix a broken washing machine. You were still waiting for the parts, when William vanished.

How could that happen in broad daylight? How could a young child wander off or be kidnapped, just up the road in sleepy Kendall on the NSW mid-north coast?

A few days later, there were bigger questions. You were taken by police, and named ‘a person of interest’. Your name – Bill Spedding – crossed news bulletins with the same speed it crossed the world.

Life would never be the same again. For you or Margaret. Your home in Bonny Hills was searched. And then excavated. Your business was raided. People stared at you on the street. Suspicion everywhere. That’s Bill Spedding. That’s Bill Spedding. You could hear it; feel it.

Sniffer dogs and forensic scientists dropped by, and friends dropped off.

Police officer after police officer told you how you’d be charged, you’d be caught. They said you were responsible for this heinous crime, where a little boy in a Spiderman outfit was kidnapped.

And then, damn it, your grandchildren were taken away from you by child welfare officers.

It couldn’t get any worse.

But inexplicably, it did. You were charged with child sex offences from three decades ago. Yes they were thrown out, but by then it was too late.

You learnt that no-one waits for the whole story. It’s the headline that everyone was reading: Bill Spedding linked to a paedophile ring. Child sex accused Spedding ‘did not act alone’. They’re still all over the internet, for everyone to read.

The days pass. The months pass. Christmas and birthdays. January and June and December. Life is tortuous. Nothing is the same.

And then you have a ‘win’, if you could call it that. Police check your whereabouts on the morning of William Tyrrell’s disappearance, and find someone saw you at the school assembly; the assembly you attended, with pride, to see your grandchild collect an award.

Remember that proud grandfather moment? Further checks, and your proof you were telling the truth. What? So was your wife, Margaret.

You did eat at the cafe across the road, after all. You were at the school 20 minutes’ drive from where William Tyrrell disappeared. And there were witnesses too.

But by then, the media story had moved on. Years pass.

And this week, the focus is somewhere else; ironically back at the house where you first visited to fix a washing machine.

William Tyrrell is the main victim in this story. We should never forget that.

But Bill Spedding is too. And there’s a lesson there for every one of us. But mostly for the NSW Police.

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