On Wednesday 5th of December, Chris Dawson was arrested in Queensland for the alleged 1982 murder of his wife Lyn Dawson. The disappearance has been the focus of the podcast ‘The Teacher’s Pet‘ by journalist Hedley Thomas for The Australian. I have been an avid listener of this podcast, but Dawson’s arrest has raised potential problems with podcasts like this, namely someone’s right to the presumption of innocence.
‘The Teacher’s Pet’ podcast has been a huge source of information and new leads that Thomas has unearthed have apparently been instrumental in securing Dawson’s arrest. Given the podcast was an investigation into the disappearance of Lyn Dawson and not a trial, Thomas endeavoured to present the facts as succinctly, clearly and as unbiasedly as possible. All the leads he investigated and found, from witness statements to the fact Dawson moved his teenage lover into the marital home just days after Lyn Dawson disappeared, seem to paint a clear picture of Dawson’s guilt.
Someone’s right to the presumption of innocence, which is an intrinsic part of our legal system, can be hard to keep in mind when their actions have been brought to light, and I suspect this is the case for many people, including myself, in regard to Dawson. The details of domestic violence and an explosive temper, the fact he was part of a ring of teachers in the northern beaches of Sydney who regularly preyed on their teenage students, moved his teenage lover into the marital home days after Lyn disappeared, as well as the numerous other facts that have been discovered by Thomas, paint the picture of a violent man who was used to getting his way. Combined with the miscarriage of justice that has occurred due to the action and inaction of the police and the DPP over the years, it is easy to be glad that he has been arrested and to assume that the trial will end with his conviction and imprisonment.
However, Dawson’s lawyer Greg Walsh, has pointed out that the sheer popularity of the podcast and Thomas’ meticulous research could impact the trial. The caveat that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and unfortunately the level of interest in this case means that in the minds of the public Dawson is guilty. The sheer amount of evidence certainly points this way but as Walsh said in his interview with the media today, this can potentially influence the memories and statements of witnesses. Adding to this is the fact that this case has become so well-known that it can easily be said that there may be some trouble finding people who have limited knowledge of the disappearance and case when the trial starts. Lyn Dawson has been missing for almost 37 years and it would a tragedy if the very thing that has led to Dawson’s arrest is the thing that may impact his trial and cause something to go wrong.
There are numerous crime and cold case podcasts (I’m currently listening to My Favorite Murder) so the interest in the case and podcast isn’t surprising. However, its effectiveness and involvement in an arrest and potential conclusion to a case could set a precedence for cold case podcasts. Rather than be a meticulous and informative investigation as Thomas has done here, we could see multiple podcasts appear with the sole aim to solve cases. Though this is objectively a good thing, the problems that this case may face (being the influence of the podcast and the information found on the trial and someone’s right to innocence) would be a terrible legacy for Thomas’ outstanding work and the fact that he has helped create the possibility for closure for Lyn Dawson’s family and friends.