Sydney Morning Herald

Teacher's Pet podcast may have 'contaminated' evidence in Dawson trial

Sydney Morning Herald logo Sydney Morning Herald 14/02/2019 4:40:00 Michaela Whitbourn

a man wearing a suit and tie: Chris Dawson (left) and brother Peter Dawson leave the Downing Centre court on Thursday. © AAPChris Dawson (left) and brother Peter Dawson leave the Downing Centre court on Thursday. The journalist behind the Teacher's Pet podcast into the disappearance and suspected murder of Sydney woman Lynette Dawson may have "contaminated" evidence that would be used to prosecute her husband Chris for her murder and jeopardised any trial, Mr Dawson's lawyer has warned.

Mr Dawson's solicitor Greg Walsh said on Thursday he would make an application to question Hedley Thomas, a senior journalist at The Australian newspaper, during Mr Dawson's committal hearing to test the strength of the Crown's case and determine if he should stand trial for his wife's murder.

a man and a woman posing for a photo: Chris Dawson was charged with the murder of Lynette Dawson on December 5 2018. © SuppliedChris Dawson was charged with the murder of Lynette Dawson on December 5 2018. Mr Thomas researched and presented the Teacher's Pet podcast into the 1982 disappearance and suspected murder of the mother-of-two, re-igniting public interest in the cold case.

Behind the scenes, detectives from the Homicide Squad's Unsolved Homicide Unit had been re-investigating the case since 2015.

Mr Dawson appeared briefly in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday. The former Newtown Jets rugby league player was charged in December with murdering his wife and is expected to enter a plea of not guilty.

"There will be an application in this case to examine at the committal hearing certain witnesses, and in particular Mr Hedley Thomas," Mr Walsh said outside court.

"I require proper disclosure by the Crown as to all of the interviews including the raw material such as audio recordings and transcripts of all the persons and potential witnesses and witnesses that [Mr Thomas] has interviewed. They're vital in this case."

The Crown was given a four-week extension on Thursday to serve the brief of evidence on Mr Dawson's legal team. The court heard 4500 pages had been served on Mr Dawson's lawyers, but a remaining 100 gigabytes of "material collected by the author of the Teacher's Pet podcast" had yet to be made available.

Senior Crown prosecutor Craig Everson said police were "struggling to get that material in a form that can be digested by Mr Walsh and his client".

Outside court, Mr Walsh said Mr Thomas had played "a very central role in the circumstances in which Christopher Dawson was charged".

"He well knew that police were investigating this very serious matter. He interviewed witnesses in the full knowledge that they had previously been actual witnesses at the inquests and he knew the risk of contaminating and affecting the reliability of the evidence. He's a very experienced journalist; that is the forensic judgment that he undertook in this case," Mr Walsh said.

Asked if Mr Thomas could have jeopardised the case, Mr Walsh said: "Not only the accused's case but the prosecution's case, because what he's done in my understanding is to impact upon the reliability of witnesses.

"As you know, human memory is a reconstructive process - so what a person learns from others, what they read, what they discuss, can all become encoded in their memory. When you discuss what a particular witness' memory is and then do it on multiple occasions, and then give them access to what other witnesses are saying in the very same case, I think it's a matter of common sense that the risk of contamination is a very real one in the context of modern communications as well."

Mr Walsh said lawyers for Mr Dawson had been "provided for the first time with handwritten copies" of diaries belonging to Mr Dawson's mother, which formed part of The Teacher's Pet podcast.

"That type of evidence is critical in a historical case such as this," Mr Walsh said.

The Crown will serve its brief of evidence on May 9. Mr Dawson, who lives in Queensland with his third wife, remains on bail after he provided a surety of $1.5 million in December.

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