HED­LEY THOMAS

OUT­STAND­ING ACHIEVE­MENT IN JOUR­NAL­ISM

GQ (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS RICHARD CLUNE IL­LUS­TRA­TION NIGEL BUCHANAN

Hed­ley Thomas will ad­mit that he was strug­gling, at a bit of cross­roads. He was still wrapped in the malaise that comes from bury­ing a fa­ther while his Spi­rax notepad had lit­tle he felt wor­thy of any deep in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He wanted some­thing solid – crav­ing firm fo­cus and the an­tic­i­pated dis­trac­tion that would fol­low. It’s why, on a cool morn­ing just over 12 months ago, he headed into the at­tic above his Bris­bane car­port to dig out some boxes – boxes packed with pa­per­work and notes de­tail­ing a Syd­ney cold case he’d pre­vi­ously writ­ten as a week­end read for The Couri­er­Mail in 2001. It ex­plored the 1982 dis­ap­pear­ance of Syd­ney mother Lynette ‘Lyn’ Daw­son. Though her body has never been found, two sep­a­rate coro­ner’s in­quests con­cluded that she was mur­dered by the hands of her hus­band Chris, a pop­u­lar foot­baller and high-school teacher who’d moved a young teenage stu­dent he’d been hav­ing an af­fair with into the fam­ily home just days af­ter Lyn van­ished. Chris has never been charged and main­tains his in­no­cence. “I’d al­ways held this long kind of sense of in­jus­tice about the case,” says Thomas. “It’s al­ways grated on me that it wasn’t dealt with prop­erly in the be­gin­ning.” He had the idea to do it – “and do it prop­erly. And, maybe if I was able to get ev­ery­one’s co­op­er­a­tion I could find new ev­i­dence and turn it over.” A print jour­nal­ist of wide ac­claim – his man­tle bows un­der the weight of nu­mer­ous awards, no­tably a 2007 Gold Walk­ley for his re­port­ing on the flawed po­lice pur­suit of Bris­bane doc­tor and for­mer ter­ror sus­pect, Mo­hamed Ha­neef – Thomas thought he’d try some­thing new, a pod­cast series that would then lead news­pa­per re­ports. “I just thought if I do this then I’ll learn some­thing new along the way. And I may be able to de­liver some­thing dif­fer­ent that then makes a dif­fer­ence.” It has. At the time of writ­ing, Thomas’ The Teacher’s Pet pod­cast for The Aus­tralian has been down­loaded 18 mil­lion times – se­cur­ing firm au­di­ences in the UK and Amer­ica as well as lead­ing front-page re­port­ing on the case here in Aus­tralia. It has led to an un­suc­cess­ful po­lice dig for Lyn’s re­mains at her for­mer Bayview home and has also seen the set-up of Strike Force South­wood – to in­ves­ti­gate his­tor­i­cal claims of sex­ual abuse by teach­ers from var­i­ous high schools around the north­ern beaches. Thomas is quick to de­flect any per­sonal praise for the many months of de­ter­mined, tire­less work – his long­est in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 30 years as a jour­nal­ist – that led to him find­ing new ev­i­dence, new wit­nesses and

“For me, the real sat­is­fac­tion comes from see­ing how happy Lyn’s fam­ily is. ”

bring­ing fresh hope to Lyn’s fam­ily in their at­tempt to see Chris Daw­son fi­nally pros­e­cuted. In­stead, the 51-year-old claims that the au­dio medium and se­ri­alised na­ture of the re­port­ing acted in his favour. “Hear­ing voices adds an­other di­men­sion to the emo­tional im­pact. When you al­low these peo­ple into your ears, you can hear this gen­uine sad­ness or anger or hon­esty or dis­hon­esty – you re­ally feel it. It’s much more pow­er­ful and I reckon that’s what’s hap­pened here – cer­tainly the re­sponses that I had to this story were like noth­ing I’ve had from a print story. “And I also think that be­cause of the un­usual model that we de­ployed, this un­fold­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, peo­ple re­sponded more be­cause they thought it could make a dif­fer­ence; be­cause it was hap­pen­ing live. Whereas if I had ten or 12 episodes and re­leased them and then gone on hol­i­day, sat back sip­ping on a cock­tail, peo­ple would have thought, ‘Oh well, what’s the point of con­tact­ing him – it’s al­ready done.’” It re­mains a mov­ing and open story for Thomas – who ad­mits he’s found ex­cite­ment in pod­casts and is ea­ger to pur­sue more. He also hopes his bosses – and those sat at the top end of news­pa­per and mag­a­zine ti­tles – see the worth of main­tained in­vest­ment in true jour­nal­ists and in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing. “I like to think it’s given news­pa­per and on­line ex­ec­u­tives a real kind of boost to see how they can lever­age the great story-telling skills of sea­soned jour­nal­ists who are al­ways cu­ri­ous. And while I’ve got a lot of sat­is­fac­tion from the fig­ures, I’m gen­uinely happy with all that’s hap­pened, for me the real sat­is­fac­tion comes from see­ing how happy Lyn’s fam­ily is. They’re happy with it be­cause they’re see­ing ac­knowl­edge­ment of their sis­ter’s/mother’s case and they’re see­ing this ac­knowl­edge­ment not just in Aus­tralia, but in­ter­na­tion­ally, with Face­book fan-sites and so on be­ing set-up. So, peo­ple around the world are en­gag­ing in the story, shar­ing ideas – and all this stuff has been help­ful and pos­i­tive for them… Ev­ery­one is re­ally glad about what’s hap­pened here so far.”

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