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Man at centre of popular podcast sentenced for killing wife: Revisiting ‘The Teacher’s Pet’ case

Christopher Dawson, an Australian former high school teacher, was found guilty of murdering his wife four decades ago. Here's how a crime podcast shed light on the case and served justice to the victim.

Now 74-years-old and failing in health, Dawson will "probably die in jail," New South Wales Supreme Court Justice Ian Harrison said while pronouncing the sentence on Friday. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Christopher Dawson, a former high school teacher and rugby league star of Australia, has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for murdering his wife in 1982. Dawson was the subject of the globally successful crime podcast The Teacher’s Pet.

Dawson was convicted in August this year of murdering his wife, Lynette, so that he could continue his illicit relationship with a high school student who worked as their babysitter, The Guardian reported. After Lynette’s disappearance, extensive police searches were carried out, but her body has still not been located.

Now 74 years old and in failing health, Dawson will “probably die in jail,” the judge said while pronouncing the sentence on Friday. Dawson, who is eligible for parole in 2040, will be 92 then.

Christopher Dawson has denied any involvement in his wife’s disappearance, but has accused her of leaving him.

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The role of the podcast The Teacher’s Pet

The 40-year wait for justice ended after crime podcast The Teacher’s Pet took up the case in 2018 and investigated the disappearance of Lynette Dawson. Published by The Australian newspaper, the hit podcast has been downloaded over 50 million times globally.

The podcast pushed the police to reopen the case and revisit their investigation. It shed light on stalled police investigations, effects on the families involved and the unwillingness of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to charge Dawson despite two coronial inquests concluding that his wife was dead and most likely killed by a known person.

The podcast was awarded the highest honour in Australian journalism. The judges who presented the 2018 Gold Walkley award said the podcast “uncovered long-lost statements and new witnesses, and prompted police to dig again for the body of Lynette Dawson, who disappeared from her home in 1982,” a report by The Guardian said.

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Over the 40 years, three separate police investigations were launched into Lynette’s disappearance and murder. Two coronial inquests recommended charges be laid, one recommending charges against Dawson. But it was not until 2018 that he was finally charged with murdering his wife.

Meanwhile, Dawson has argued that he could not receive a fair trial due to the widespread notoriety brought by the 14-part podcast.

In the interests of a fair trial and on advice from the Office of the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, The Australian removed the podcast from all platforms in April 2019. It was made available again in Australia in September this year after Dawson was convicted in August.

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The final verdict

New South Wales Supreme Court Justice Ian Harrison, while pronouncing the sentence on Friday, said, “Dawson has enjoyed until his arrest 36 years in the community, unimpeded by the taint of a conviction for killing his wife, or by any punishment for doing so.”

Justice Harrison further noted that Dawson killed his wife for the “selfish and cynical purpose” of allowing him an unfettered relationship with the student. Describing Dawson’s crime as premeditated and planned and a “self-indulgent brutality”, the judge observed that Lynette Dawson “was treated by her husband as completely dispensable.”

“Mr Dawson is not old by contemporary standards but the reality is that he will not live to reach the end of his non-parole period. I recognise that the unavoidable prospect is that Mr Dawson will probably die in jail,” the judge was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

First published on: 03-12-2022 at 10:07 IST
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