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Chris Dawson guilty of murdering his first wife Lynette Dawson

Former high school teacher and rugby league player Chris Dawson has been found guilty of murdering his wife Lynette Dawson after a long Judge-only trial.

Lynette Dawson, 33, disappeared from their Bayview home on Sydney’s northern beaches on 9 January 1982, more than forty years ago. She left behind their two young daughters Shanelle and Sherryn, then aged four and two, and has never been found.

The suspicious circumstances

Her disappearance occurred in what were highly suspicious circumstances, including the following:
– Chris Dawson and Lynette Dawson had been having marital problems and attended marriage counselling the day before her disappearance.
– Chris Dawson had commenced a relationship with Joanne Curtis, who moved in a mere two days after Lynette Dawson’s disappearance
– according to some witnesses, Chris Dawson had expressed interest in hiring a hitman to murder his wife
– according to some witnesses, Chris Dawson had committed domestic violence against Lynette Dawson
– according to some witnesses, Chris Dawson detested Lynette Dawson and had spoken about leaving her
– Chris Dawson had claimed his wife Lynette had called him several times and she had used her bank card twice, but no-one else she knew had heard from her
– Six weeks had passed before Chris Dawson reported to Mona Vale police that his wife was missing.

The inquests

In February 2001, a coronial inquest was held. Deputy State Coroner Jan Stevenson concluded that Lynette Dawson had been murdered and that her killer was Chris Dawson. The coroner recommended charges be laid.

In February 2003, another coronial inquest was held. Coroner Carl Milovanovich concluded that Chris Dawson had murdered Lynette Dawson and also recommended charges be laid.

The then-Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC refused to prosecute because he said there was not enough evidence.

The legal process

A popular podcast named The Teachers Pet reignited public interest in the case.

Chris Dawson was arrested in Queensland and subsequently charged in NSW over the death of his wife. Her nephew David Jenkins tweeted: “I’m shaking. There is a long road in front of us in bringing Lyn home, but this is a big step.”

In February 2020, Dawson was committed to stand trial for the murder of his wife.

Permanent stay application

In June last year, the NSW Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Bathurst, Justice Christine Adamson and Justice Geoffrey Bellew accepted the prejudice to Dawson caused by the pre-trial publicity and delay in this case was “very serious”, but said that could be “remedied or sufficiently ameliorated by careful directions which the judge at the trial will give to the jury”.

Soon after, his lawyers lodged a special leave application in the High Court for a permanent stay on the charge.  Dawson was refused leave to appeal against the NSW Court of Appeal’s refusal to grant a permanent stay of his murder charge.

In a brief judgment, High Court Justices Stephen Gageler and Michelle Gordon upheld the rulings made by the NSW ­Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeal, which had previously rejected his application to strike the case out.

Justice Gageler said there was no sufficient reason to doubt the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Dawson, who had exhausted the appeals process in respect of whether he should stand trial, was represented by Philip Boulton SC, while NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Sally Dowling SC represented the crown.

The trial

The trial went for more than nine weeks.

The ABC reported that:

“The Crown alleged Mr Dawson’s motivation was to have an “unfettered relationship” with the family’s teenage babysitter, known in court as JC, who was also a student at the high school where he taught.
The NSW Supreme Court heard the former rugby league player was “besotted” with the teenager, who he later married, and came to view his wife as an “impediment” to being with JC.
Mr Dawson’s defence team argued it was possible Ms Dawson made the decision to abandon her family, having seen the “writing on the wall” that their relationship would not recover from a breach of trust.
On her fifth and final day of a closing address, his barrister Pauline David told the court Ms Dawson would have been “understandably, deeply hurt” by her husband’s behaviour with JC.”
She argued it was a contributor to Ms Dawson’s decision to leave the home.
“We say notwithstanding his relationship, however inappropriate, the defence position is that doesn’t make him a murderer,” Ms David said.

The defence relied on alleged sightings of Lynette after 8 January 1982.

 

The verdict

Justice Ian Harrison SC’s summation which exceeds two-and-a-half hours, focused on Dawson’s claims that Lynette called him and no-one else following her disappearance:

“I’m satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Dawson’s reported telephone calls with Lynette Dawson after 9 January 1982 are lies…

“I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Lynette Dawson never telephoned Mr Dawson after 9 January 1982″

“That leads me to conclude that Lynette Dawson did not leave her home voluntarily.”

Justice Harrison’s findings about Dawson’s brother-in-law, Ross Hutcheon, who claimed to have sighted Lynette Dawson after her disappearance, and Dawson’s sister’s allegation she heard her husband tell the police about the allegation, were that both were fabrications.

The evidence of  a former neighbour of Lyn Dawson, and another witness named Mr Cooper, who claimed to have spoken to Lynette at a pub, was also rejected. Other alleged sightings were also not accepted.

Justice Harrison said he was satisfied that “Lynette Dawson is dead, that she died on or about 8 January 1982 and she did not voluntarily abandon her home.”

Justice Harrison also said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt Dawson was guilty.

Conclusion

This decision offers to bring to a close a long-running and intriguing saga disappearance of mother and wife Lynette Dawson. Whilst this was a circumstantial Crown case, almost all of the evidence pointed strongly to her husband Chris Dawson having caused her death. Justice Harrison’s verdict has determined that the totality of the evidence is sufficient to establish that Dawson murdered his wife because it is capable of excluding all reasonable inferences consistent with his innocence.

An appeal against Justice Harrison’s verdict is likely. Subject to an appeal being successful, Chris Dawson will likely spend his final days in prison.

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