From a quiet life to harsh spotlight
He was a rugby league player, a popular teacher, and now he’s the most famous alleged murderer in the country.
But yesterday Chris Dawson had to wait his turn to sit on a plastic chair in a tiny featureless room in a police lockup to have his first day in a NSW court, by remote.
Dawson, who was yesterday charged with the murder of his wife Lyn, appeared by video link from the Surry Hills police station in Sydney, while a magistrate, a few lawyers and a huge posse of journalists packed into the oldstyle wood-panelled Courtroom 1 of the sandstone Central Local Court in the city.
Seeing the press pack as the court reopened at 2pm, Magistrate Robert Williams looked at the journalists and said, while there were a lot of people waiting for the Dawson matter, “I can’t proceed until I get court papers.”
So, while waiting, the court dealt with a young woman accused of driving while under the influence of drugs who appeared from the video cubicle at the Surry Hills police station, looking rather like a deer caught in headlights.
She was released on bail with conditions, and pretty soon after that, Dawson appeared on the video monitor, walking into the cubicle in a dark grey T-shirt, light blue shorts, and thongs — the same outfit he’d worn as he was extradited by plane from Queensland in the morning.
Dawson’s demeanour didn’t look that much better than the young woman who had been in the creaky plastic chair before him.
Dawson looked anxious and stressed, and kept his arms crossed most of the time, occasionally looking down.
He only spoke at the start when the magistrate asked him if he were Christopher Dawson, saying “Yes, yes I am, Sir” and at the end, saying “thank you” when told he could leave the room.
While the young woman who had appeared before him got out from behind bars yesterday, Dawson didn’t. His lawyer Greg Walsh said he had only got the brief at 6pm on Wednesday and had not had sufficient time to develop a full argument to seek bail.
The matter was adjourned to Friday next week, with bail formally denied in the meantime.
Outside the court, Mr Walsh said his client would plead not guilty and vigorously defend his innocence, and told of an extra- ordinary story which went to a possible line of argument that, since no body had been found and there had been sightings of her since she disappeared in January, 1982, Lyn might still be alive.
“I am aware of another case where a woman disappeared for 60 years and her daughter only found out she’d gone to New Zealand, married, and had a family, after she died in 2002,” Mr Walsh said. “It does happen.”
Chatting to journalists after the press conference, the lawyer provided a reminder of his client’s sporting prowess. It turned out Mr Walsh had played for Sydney rugby union team Wests in the same era Dawson and his twin brother Paul played rugby for Easts, before they shifted to play first-grade rugby league for the Newtown Jets.
“I was 17, 18, I would’ve probably played against the Dawsons,” Mr Walsh said.
“They had blonde hair, they were pretty good players,” he said. “It’s a small world, isn’t it?” There was also a hint at the court of how, over the years as a sports teacher, Dawson displayed a certain charisma which earned respect from students and produced lasting loyalties.
A former student who was taught by Dawson between Year eight and Year 12 in a Queensland school came to court to support him. She did not want to be identified and sat in the back of the court watching.
“He was an amazing teacher, that’s what I know,” she said.
“He’s innocent, there’s no evidence against him.”
By the time Dawson appeared in court yesterday it had been an extraordinary 30 hours for the 70year-old since he was arrested at his property at Biggera Waters, on the Gold Coast, at 8am on Wednesday, nearly 37 years since Lyn went missing. He had spent his first night in custody in Southport watch-house on Wednesday night, before detectives yesterday morning drove him directly on to the tarmac at Gold Coast airport.
Dawson spent his extradition flight to Sydney staring out the window. Seated in row 30, the last row of seats on the plane, Dawson occasionally spoke to police and had breakfast on the 90-minute flight. Detectives were seated beside and in front of him. “Most of the flight he spent looking out the window. It was like a last taste of freedom,” a passenger said.
Chris Dawson in a police car after returning to Sydney