Chris Dawson who became the centre of the Teacher’s Pet podcast has been jailed for 24 years for murdering his wife Lynette in Australia 40 years ago. Dawson had opted for a trial by judge instead of a jury in the New South Wales state Supreme Court due to the publicity from The Teacher’s Pet podcast, which 60 million people have listened to since 2018.
The case has attracted interest from beyond Australia, and the podcast set out a circumstantial case that Dawson had murdered his wife Lynette. Justice Ian Harrison found that he killed his wife in 1982. At the time, Dawson was a high school teacher who was in a relationship with a teenage former student and babysitter for his two daughters, identified in court as JC.
Dawson and JC married in 1984 and moved to Queensland, and separated in 1990. The judge found he killed his wife because he feared losing his lover. The judge rejected the possibility Lynette had abandoned her husband and children to vanish without a trace.
Dawson, 74, a former Newtown Jets rugby league player, and PE teacher, will not be eligible for parole for 18 years - on 29 August 2040, when he is aged 92 years old, and is likely to die in prison. His full sentence would run until 2046 when he is 98 years old. Justice Ian Harrison said Dawson’s crime was “self-indulgent brutality” that “was neither spontaneous nor unavoidable”. Earlier this year the New South Wales government passed laws so convicted murderers would be unable to be released on parole if they refused to reveal the location of victims’ remains. Dawson has always maintained his innocence.
His lawyer Greg Walsh, said he planned to appeal his conviction. He said: “Our system of justice and our democracy is based upon the presumption of innocence,” he told media on Friday. “He maintains his innocence.”
What happened to Lynette Dawson?
Lynette was a 33-year-old mum-of-two when she disappeared in January 1982. She had arranged to meet her mum for lunch on 9 January but never arrived, she had spoken on the phone to her mum the night before while she was at home, on Sydney’s north beaches, with her husband.
Dawson officially reported Lynette missing on 18 February. He claims he dropped Lynette off at a bus stop on 9 January 1982, and that she called him later that day to say she needed “some time away”.
He maintained the facade she had gone missing, and made numerous appeals for her return. He even placed an advert in a newspaper on 27 March, 1982 saying: “Lyn I love you, we all miss you. Please ring. We want you home. Chris.”
What did the judge say?
In his sentencing remarks, Justice Harrison said Lynette’s murder was committed for “the selfish and cynical purpose of eliminating the inconvenient obstruction” she presented to Dawson’s new life with JC that he was “unable to resist. “
He said: “Lynette Dawson was faultless and undeserving of her fate. Despite the deteriorating state of her marriage to Mr Dawson, she was undoubtedly also completely unsuspecting. Tragically her death deprived her young daughters of their mother so that a significant part of the harm caused to others, and by inference to the community, as a consequence of her death, is the sad fact that Lynette Dawson was treated by her husband, the father of the very same girls, as completely dispensable.”
Dawson had submitted that he had been the subject of adverse and persistent publicity, and that he had become the subject of “vilification” from other inmates, was referred to as “the teacher’s pet” and was the subject of threats of violence.
However, Justice Harrison said: “The publicity that has attended this crime has undoubtedly been intense. That is to some extent a function of the several decades over and during which speculation about Lynette Dawson’s fate has managed to foment. I would be sympathetic to Mr Dawson’s concern that the media attention will continue to have an adverse impact upon him if it were not for the fact that I am unable to agree that, whatever may have been the position before his trial, it will continue to be unfair following his conviction.
“Simply put, Mr Dawson’s crime is a matter of intense public interest and the attention he has received is directly referable to that interest. It would be otherwise if media reports had significantly misrepresented his crime in a way that created a false perception of what he had done.
“His major complaint, when properly understood, is that the publicity improperly made assumptions about his guilt at a time when he was entitled to the presumption of innocence. Mr Dawson has now been convicted of the crime which attracted the publicity in question. In those circumstances, as harsh as it may sound to say so, Mr Dawson is now the author of his own misfortune.”
What has Lynette’s family said?
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Lynette’s brother Greg Simms said on the steps of the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney: “Chris Dawson has had 40 years of freedom, now it’s our turn,” The family said they wanted to do away with references to Lynette’s marital name which linked her to a man who “discarded her”.
Simms also said: “We respect and thank Judge Harrison for his sentence, and hope Chris Dawson lives a long life in order to serve that sentence,” he said.
What was the Teacher’s Pet about?
The Teacher’s Pet podcast set out a circumstantial case that Dawson had murdered his wife Lynette. Starting in 2018 it was published by News Corp’s The Australian newspaper and was hosted by Hedley Thomas, a journalist, and produced by Slade Gibson, a former guitarist with Savage Garden.
According to reports the podcast has racked up close to 60 million downloads and reached number one in podcast charts across the world. A few months after the podcast aired Dawson was charged.
Hedley Thomas was among those who gave evidence at Dawson’s trial, and said he only wanted justice for Lynette and her family. Dawson’s legal team argued the podcast denied him a fair trial because of the way he was depicted.