Dawson faces trial over wife’s alleged murder 38 years ago
Rising from his seat in the front row of a Sydney court’s public gallery, Chris Dawson nodded but remained silent as he was committed to stand trial for the murder of his wife, Lynette.
It was a significant moment in a saga that has ranged across almost four decades since Lyn vanished, bringing her former star rugby league player husband closer to facing a jury.
On Thursday, the fourth and final day of a committal hearing in the Downing Centre Local Court, magistrate Jacqueline Trad ordered Mr Dawson, 71, to appear in the NSW Supreme Court in April for arraignment.
There have been many years of investigations. The NSW Police Force’s unsolved homicide squad began reinvestigating in 2015, and the case later attracted global attention through The Australian’s podcast The Teacher’s Pet.
This week’s committal hearing sets the stage for a final determination of what happened when Lyn went missing from the couple’s Bayview home on Sydney’s northern beaches in January 1982.
Outside court, Mr Dawson’s solicitor, Greg Walsh, said he expected a trial to go ahead this year.
Mr Walsh said pre-trial applications would probably last three to four weeks, and a trial was likely to take the same time.
“Having faced this situation for some time, I think that he’s looking forward to clearing his name,’’ Mr Walsh said. “He’ll plead not guilty and there will be pre-trial applications.’’
It was “too early’’ to say whether Mr Dawson and his legal team would seek a judge-only trial, which is regarded as a possibility considering publicity surrounding the case.
The final witness in the committal hearing on Thursday, Mr Dawson’s brother-in-law, Ross Hutcheon, became the fourth person during the week’s proceedings to claim Lyn was sighted alive after her disappearance.
Giving evidence by videolink from Perth, Mr Hutcheon told the hearing that he saw Lyn sitting at a Sydney bus stop about “three to six months’’ after she went missing. Crown prosecutor Craig Everson suggested to Mr Hutcheon that he told two police officers, when interviewed in 1999, that he had had no contact with Lyn since her disappearance.
Mr Hutcheon replied: “I had visual contact with Ms Dawson, not verbal contact.’’
He said he had known Lyn “very, very well’’ over the years, which included a three-month period when she and Mr Dawson lived at his house in the 1970s while theirs at Bayview was being built.
Mr Hutcheon said he was alone, driving his work car west along Victoria Road at Gladesville towards Parramatta sometime between 10am and 3pm when he “happened to notice a woman standing at the bus stop on the right-hand side’’.
“I immediately recognised her as Lyn Dawson. I also noted at the time that to my left was Gladesville Hospital. Lyn was a nurse. I put the two together.’’
Mr Hutcheon insisted he told two police officers about the alleged sighting when they visited his home in Cromer, on the city’s
northern beaches, on February 26, 1999.
The officers were visiting to “tie up loose ends’’ in the case, he said.
Mr Hutcheon said for years, the only other person he had told was his wife, who was in the family lounge room with him during the police interview in 1999.
He said he eventually told Mr Dawson’s brother, Peter, a loyal supporter of Mr Dawson who was sitting two seats away from his accused brother during the evidence.
Mr Hutcheon said he could not remember when or how he told Peter Dawson.
“It could have been three or four years ago,’’ he told the court.
He said he was aware at the time of the alleged sighting that Lyn was missing.
He said he regretted not turning his car back immediately to speak to the woman he believed was her. He did turn back about three minutes later, he said, only to find “she had gone’’.
He assumed she had caught a bus heading towards the city.
A 101-year-old woman, Elva McBay, told the court on Tuesday that she had spotted a woman she thought was Lyn in Sydney’s Macquarie Street, more than a year after her disappearance.
Ms McBay said the woman suddenly ducked under a barricade and ran in front of a royal motorcade during a visit by Prince Charles and Diana.
However, the incident happened so quickly that she could not be sure.
Former neighbours of the Dawsons at Bayview, Jill and Peter Breese, claimed in evidence on Wednesday that they believed they saw Lyn at Rockcastle Hospital in Sydney’s Curl Curl more than two years after she went missing.
At the time, Mr Breese was recovering from nasal surgery.
The alleged sightings occurred outside his room on separate occasions.
The couple did not speak to her, and did not know she was missing at the time.
Chris and Lynette Dawson in 1974
Chris Dawson arrives at court on Thursday