News, Culture & Society

How Teacher’s Pet podcast by Hedley Thomas brought justice for Lynette Dawson murder

It was the true crime podcast heard and followed devotedly by a staggering 30 million listeners across the world – and one that has finally brought a killer to justice after 40 years.

The Teacher’s Pet, started in 2018 by The Australian’s Hedley Thomas – was key to justice catching up with Chris Dawson for the murder of his wife Lynette in 1982.

On Tuesday Dawson, 74, was found guilty of the murder even though his wife’s body has never been found, with Justice Ian Harrison spotlighting the role the podcast had played in the renewed investigation.

‘I’m sure that made a massive difference to this whole case,’ said Lynette’s sister-in-law Merilyn Simms said of the podcast on the steps of the Supreme Court in Sydney.

As he stood with Lynette’s family, Thomas, delivered a compelling statement about the world which existed in the 1970s and 80s Sydney that allowed Dawson to escape justice.

‘Let’s remember it’s taken 40 years for this to happen,’ he said. ‘Chris Dawson should have been charged 40 years ago.

‘He has had 40 years of life that he has been able to enjoy without any accountability for what’s happened. That’s disgraceful. 

Teacher’s Pet – started in 2018 by journalist Hedley Thomas (pictured) – was the key to the courts finally catching up with Chris Dawson for the murder of his wife Lynette decades before

‘Chris faces the rest of his life in jail. He’s 74 years old. So he’s going to struggle undoubtedly – but he’s had 40 years of freedom too.’

Thomas said he had been driven to investigate the case because of the obvious injustice.

‘Her story struck me is so unjust, so unfair at the time,’ said Thomas. ‘It’s just such a privilege that I’ve had that opportunity. I feel incredibly fortunate. 

‘I feel like I’ve even got to know them. Although I could never have known – I was 16 when she disappeared.’

Thomas could now be in line for the $200,000 reward NSW state government posted in 2014 for new information leading to the conviction of the killer. 

The podcast first began four years ago, re-examining the mysterious disappearance of the wife of the former Australian rugby league star in 1982.

Lynette vanished without a trace at the age of 34 while her schoolteacher husband was having an illicit affair with the family’s 16-year-old babysitter.

Thomas launched a forensic re-examination of the police investigation in a 14-part podcast that was followed up by another two episodes later in 2018 when Dawson was finally charged and then a special update episode in 2019.

Because of the impending court case, the podcast was taken offline to avoid tainting the legal process. 

Chris Dawson, 74, was found guilty of the murder even though his wife's body has never been found, with Justice Ian Harrison spotlighting the role the podcast had played

Chris Dawson, 74, was found guilty of the murder even though his wife’s body has never been found, with Justice Ian Harrison spotlighting the role the podcast had played

Lynette Dawson vanished without a trace at the age of 34 while her schoolteacher husband was having an illicit affair with the family's 16-year-old babysitter

Lynette Dawson vanished without a trace at the age of 34 while her schoolteacher husband was having an illicit affair with the family’s 16-year-old babysitter

Justice Harrison acknowledged it was pivotal in the cold case being re-opened but admitted it had a ‘less than balanced’ view of Dawson’s role in his wife’s murder.

But it was central to the police relaunching their probe into the mystery and Dawson’s conviction for the murder on Tuesday.

Thomas won a Gold Walkley for the podcast series with judges calling it ‘a masterclass in investigative journalism’ but Dawson’s legal team said it would deny their client a fair trial.

‘I think it’s true, I did become obsessive about it,’ admitted Thomas after the verdict.

‘You only get a case like Lynn Dawson’s once a lifetime. She’s such an incredible woman. She must have been a wonderful mum, extraordinarily devoted.

‘We’ve had some incredible challenges along the way. We have to acknowledge the incredible job that the prosecutors did to finally bring this case home.  

‘There’s been a lot of criticism appropriately made of the police investigation early on. 

Lynn Dawson vanished while her schoolteacher husband Chris was having an illicit affair with the family's 16-year-old babysitter (pictured), identified only as JC

Lynn Dawson vanished while her schoolteacher husband Chris was having an illicit affair with the family’s 16-year-old babysitter (pictured), identified only as JC

Lynette Dawson's sister-in-law Merilyn Simms said on the steps of the Supreme Court in Sydney that the podcast had been key to the conviction of Chris Dawson

Lynette Dawson’s sister-in-law Merilyn Simms said on the steps of the Supreme Court in Sydney that the podcast had been key to the conviction of Chris Dawson

‘Lynn Dawson was missing for eight years and just treated as a runaway mother for that time when the circumstances was so gravely suspicious. 

‘It wouldn’t happen today. If something like that happened today, there would be a StrikeForce that would be set up today. 

‘And there would be a very strong focus on the spouse. But that didn’t happen. And I think that’s a reflection of society, and how far things have come.’

Thomas now hopes the podcast will be reinstated for new listeners to hear how the case unfolded.

 He added: ‘No journalist likes to see that – journalism censored, removed. That’s something above my paygrade but I hope so…I’d be pushing for it.’

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk