By Sarah McPhee
Investigative journalist Hedley Thomas has denied embarking on a campaign to incite prejudice against former Sydney teacher Chris Dawson with his podcast, The Teacher’s Pet, a court has heard.
Dawson, a former Newtown Jets rugby league player, is on trial in the NSW Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to murdering his first wife, Lynette Dawson, who vanished from Sydney’s northern beaches in January 1982.
Thomas was called to give evidence on Monday, in the final days of the Crown case, at the request of Dawson’s lawyers who questioned The Australian’s Walkley Award-winning journalist about his investigation and subsequent podcast into the mother-of-two’s disappearance.
He said he wrote a feature-length article about the first coronial inquest in 2001, including meeting Detective Damian Loone and Lynette’s sister Patricia Jenkins, and met Lynette’s brother Greg Simms in late 2017 when he had decided to create the podcast.
Thomas dismissed the suggestion from Dawson’s barrister Pauline David that, by that time, he had “formed the view that Christopher Dawson was guilty of murder” or the “probable murder” of Lynette.
“I thought that was likely, but I still had an open mind about it. I wanted to learn more about it. I became more sure as time went on,” he said.
He disagreed that, from the outset, “it was going to be an exercise in condemning Chris Dawson”.
“If I had uncovered or received information from anybody that disrupted [or] changed the narrative, that disputed the findings by coroners or anyone, that would’ve become a very significant part of the podcast.”
David asked: “Clearly, the only person you were pursuing was Chris Dawson as the perpetrator of that crime?”
“I don’t see it as a pursuit, I was trying to tell as full a story as I could. He was the only suspect [of whom] I was aware,” Thomas replied.
David asked: “You embarked, I want to suggest, on a campaign to incite prejudice against him, against the accused?”
“No, I disagree,” Thomas replied.
He agreed that the message he had conveyed to Lynette’s family was that he would assist them in seeking justice, and further agreed that “justice for Lyn” meant the prosecution of Chris Dawson.
“I think that that is a fair call, yes,” Thomas said.
He was taken to a number of television appearances he made including on Nine’s 60 Minutes, during which he had described Dawson as a “despicable person”, severely narcissistic and dangerous.
Thomas accepted that he had never met Dawson, but said he was asked for his “personal opinion”.
“I don’t think you need to meet somebody to form a view about them,” he said.
“That ... was my view, and it hasn’t changed.”
Thomas denied receiving any money when someone listened to the 16-episode podcast, which he said had amassed 60 million downloads internationally. The Crown tendered a list of witnesses Thomas had talked to, featuring 24 names.
Asked by David whether the podcast made him “famous”, as he had won a Walkley Award for it, Thomas replied, “I don’t think so.”
“It was the seventh [Walkley]. It wasn’t a novel or new thing.”
The Crown alleges Dawson was motivated to murder by a desire to have an unfettered relationship with babysitter and former student, known as JC. His judge-alone trial before Justice Ian Harrison continues.
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