The trial of Christopher Dawson for the alleged murder of his then wife Lynette Dawson in 1982, has been delayed until next year due to significant public attention on the case, largely contributed to the popular podcast ‘The Teacher’s Pet’.
Mr Dawson, now aged 72, was arrested in December 2018 and has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, which the prosecution allege occurred at Bayview in NSW, on or about 8 January 1982.
His defence has maintained that Mr Dawson spoke to Lynette several times by telephone after last seeing her, before ultimately accepting that she had decided to leave him and their children and thereafter to conceal her whereabouts.
He has even proposed on multiple occasions that she had perhaps joined a religious cult.
The Crown has also acknowledged that there appears to be a number of people claiming to have seen Lynette in varied locations across NSW.
Earlier this year, he applied to the NSW Supreme Court for an order that his trial be permanently stayed for several reasons including issues related to forensic evidence due to the delayed commencement of proceedings, and the nature and extent of public commentary regarding the matter.
If successful a permanent stay would have placed a halt on further legal proceedings.
In a summary of her decision, NSW Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Fullerton ruled that the trial should be only temporarily stayed and “is not to commence before 1 June 2021.”
Justice Fullerton labelled the “unrestrained and uncensored public commentary about Lynette Dawson’s suspected murder,” as the “most egregious example of media interference with a criminal trial process.”
‘The Teacher’s Pet’ is a 2018 serialised podcast produced and presented by an investigative journalist, Hedley Thomas from The Australian.
It was broadcasted on several internet platforms and saw enormous attention, with over 50 million downloads of the series.
The series even earned the Gold Walkley, which is one of the most prestigious awards for Australian journalism.
The episodes are unable to be streamed currently, due to the on-going trial process, “to help ensure Chris gets a fair trial,” as stated in an episode’s information.
The series followed the alleged accounts of Mr Dawson’s marriage, his affair with his student, whom he later married and divorced, and the investigation into Lynette’s murder.
“This is no fairytale, but a sordid story of strangely close twin brothers, teenage student lovers, and probable murder.”states the synopsis of the series.
“For many years, skilled investigative journalists have been responsible for the public exposure of incompetent or corrupt behaviour…In many cases, that work has led to criminal charges being laid against those suspected of serious criminal offending and the successful prosecution of many of them.” explained Justice Fullerton.
“However, the risk that an overzealous investigative journalist poses to a fair trial of a person who might ultimately be charged with an historic murder (or another historic criminal offence or offences) is self-evident.” she continued.
The popularity of “true crime” podcasts “highlights the need for both the journalist and the broadcaster to apply restraint if that new medium is to coexist with the fundamental right of a person accused of a serious crime to be tried in a court of law, not in a court of public opinion.” she contended.
Her Honour did accept that in creating further delay in the commencement of the trial there was a risk of “memories fading or, worse still, witnesses dying,” however, maintained that it was necessary in order to ensure “the accused’s fundamental right to a fair trial,”.
This is particularly in light of the fact that the murder trial will be before a jury.
Mr Dawson remains on bail, after depositing $1.5 million in 2018.
In 2003, a coronial inquest was held where Coroner Carl Milovanovich recommended laying charges against Mr Dawson.
At the inquest, his then student, ex-wife of Mr Dawson, revealed that their affair began when she was only 16 years of age, and a student at the high-school which he taught at.
She soon after became a live-in baby-sitter to Chris and Lynette Dawson’s two young daughters.
Their relationship developed, and they began having “weekly sex,” whilst he was still married to Lynette.
Within a few months after Lynette was reported missing, Mr Dawson proposed to his then student whom he married.
She divorced him in 1990 and has not spoken publicly about the matter since the inquest.
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