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William Tyrrell’s foster father has been cleared of lying to the NSW Crime Commission after a magistrate found some questions asked during a secret hearing in 2021 were too vague and responses given by the man could have been an honest misunderstanding.

The 56-year-old, who cannot be named, was charged in 2022 after police alleged he gave five deliberately dishonest answers to the commission – a secretive crime-fighting body that has the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.

William Tyrrell’s foster parents arrive at Downing Centre Local Court this week.Credit: Nick Moir

This week, Downing Centre Local Court was told homicide detectives partnered with the commission in July 2021 to form Operation Harden, which examined the disappearance of three-year-old William from Kendall on the NSW Mid North Coast in September 2014.

Both foster parents were called to give evidence and were asked about a range of issues, including two assaults on another child in their care in 2021. The foster mother pleaded guilty this year to kicking the child in October 2021 and hitting them with a wooden spoon in January 2021.

The foster father was asked in November 2021 if his wife had ever, to his knowledge, hit the child and responded: “Not to my knowledge, no.” He also responded “no” when asked if his wife had “harmed” the child “in recent times”.

Asked if his wife had ever kicked the child, he said, “Not to my knowledge.” He responded “no” when asked twice if the child had told him about being kicked by the foster mother.

William Tyrrell vanished from Kendall on the NSW Mid North Coast in 2014.

Nine covert police recordings were played to the court, including the foster mother smacking the crying child with a wooden spoon and saying to the foster father several minutes later: “[The child is] going to have a massive welt on [their] leg.”

In another recording, the foster mother told the father she had kicked the child “hard” in the leg earlier that day and couldn’t believe she had done it.

Prosecutor John Marsh said the foster father denied having knowledge of the child being kicked, despite the event occurring 22 days earlier.

He said the father was able to recall the child being placed in a time-out for 44 minutes on that day, so he was “clearly able to recall the day in question”.

“He was lying to cover the fact that his wife had assaulted a child in their care,” Marsh said.

The foster father’s barrister Phillip English said the court had to be persuaded that his client’s evidence wasn’t simply “an honest mistake”.

He said recordings that contradicted the foster father’s evidence were not played to him at the secret hearing, which would have given him an opportunity to clarify.

“At the end of the day, it’s customary to offer fairness to a witness,” English said.

On Tuesday, Magistrate John Arms said three of the questions asked at the commission involved a “substantial ambiguity”, including the definition of “harm”, the definition of “recent times”, and the qualifier “do you recall”. He dismissed these three charges.

Arms said prosecutors had not proved for the remaining two charges that the foster father deliberately lied, rather than giving an honest but mistaken answer, having a misunderstanding, or being careless.

He found the foster father not guilty of all five counts of knowingly giving false or misleading evidence at a hearing.

When the verdict was delivered, the foster parents hugged their legal team and hugged supporters in the court.

The man’s solicitor, Lauren MacDougall, said her client has “always maintained his innocence in relation to these charges” and was glad for the court’s finding.

“His concern remains, as it always has, that William Tyrell remains a missing person,” MacDougall said.

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