Chris Dawson: Court told former teacher guilty of wife’s murder despite 'problematic' ruling

Miklos Bolza
Chris Dawson is appealing his murder conviction over the disappearance of his wife Lynette.
Chris Dawson is appealing his murder conviction over the disappearance of his wife Lynette. Credit: methode/methode

While a judge made “problematic” remarks in finding Chris Dawson guilty of his wife’s four-decades-old murder, his verdict and conviction should remain untouched, a court has been told.

The 75-year-old is appealing an August 2022 NSW Supreme Court finding that he killed his wife Lynette Dawson and disposed of her body in January 1982 because she was an impediment to a relationship with his teenage babysitter.

On Wednesday, crown prosecutor Brett Hatfield SC acknowledged the judge’s reasoning had its issues, particularly when using Dawson’s many lies to show a consciousness of guilt.

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“We can’t get away from the fact that the language (of the judgment) is problematic,” he told the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal.

However, he said a finding of guilt should still follow from the finding that Dawson had lied about receiving a phone call from his wife on January 9, 1982.

The ex-teacher claims Ms Dawson told him on that call and in later phone conversations that she wanted time alone to think things over.

At the time, Dawson had pursued his teenage student, who can legally only be referred to as JC, sending her love letters and sleeping with her in his family home in Sydney’s northern beaches.

Justice Ian Harrison found that Ms Dawson was dead by the time of January 9 and that her husband had lied about the call.

“Once you’ve found beyond reasonable doubt that he’s lying about the call on that day ... there was only one outcome that could follow,” Mr Hatfield told a three-judge panel on Wednesday.

Dawson’s version of what happened — that his wife completely abandoned her home, children, family and friends because of his infidelity — was glaringly improbable, the prosecutor said.

The ex-teacher’s various claims of where his wife was, including at a Blue Mountains commune and in New Zealand, were designed to be “vague, unverifiable and unlikely to attract suspicion in his direction”, Mr Hatfield said.

Claimed sightings by others of Ms Dawson alive after January 9 were also inherently problematic and weak, he added.

“Do you say that the strength of the crown case irrespective of what the trial judge did was so great that it reduced the defence case to a fanciful hypothesis?” Justice Christine Adamson asked.

“Yes, we do say that,” Mr Hatfield replied.

On Monday and Tuesday, Dawson’s barrister Belinda Rigg SC argued it was not open to the court to find he murdered his wife beyond reasonable doubt.

She also defended the possibility that a 33-year-old Ms Dawson had left her home and family to start a new life in the aftermath of her husband’s infidelity.

Justice Harrison is accused of making several key errors when convicting Dawson, including ignoring a significant disadvantage he had in defending a 40-year-old murder case.

If the ex-teacher is successful on his appeal, he could be acquitted or the matter sent back for a retrial.

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