Former school teacher Chris Dawson charged with underage sex after viral murder mystery podcast

Phil Mercer
Chris Dawson was charged shortly after pleading not guilty to murder - REX

A former Australian high school teacher accused of killing his wife in a decades-old case that has been the subject of a hit crime podcast has been charged with having sex with an underage student in the 1970s and 80s.

Chris Dawson, 70, was arrested in December over the disappearance of Lynette Dawson in 1982.  No trace of the mother-of-two has been found since she went missing from the family’s home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches at the age of 33.

Mr Dawson, a former rugby player, has always denied murder, and has insisted his wife may have walked out on him and their children to join a religious group.  

The gripping cold case is chronicled in the popular 2018 podcast The Teacher's Pet by the journalist Hedley Thomas, which brought global attention to the mystery. The series, produced by The Australian newspaper, is temporarily unavailable, pending legal proceedings in Australia but available worldwide. 

Hours after pleading not guilty in court to his wife’s murder, Mr Dawson was charged with a historic sex offence against a high school student.

“The 70-year-old-man was charged with carnal knowledge in respect of a 16-year-old girl, who in 1980 was 16,” said Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec of the child abuse and sex crimes squad. "It's a very serious charge, it does relate to a 1980s charge, hence (the use) of the term carnal knowledge." 

The Teacher’s Pet has become an international sensation and has been downloaded more than 50 million times.  It uncovered fresh witnesses which investigators say helped lead to Mr Dawson’s arrest. 

Its publisher has agreed to remove information from its website that related to the prosecution case.

On Thursday a judge said Mr Dawson’s trial was almost in "uncharted waters" due to legal considerations prompted by the podcast.  Greg Walsh, a lawyer representing the defendant, warned its contents could pose a "risk of contamination" to a fair hearing.

He also sought to undermine the prosecution by claiming that detectives investigating the case had consulted a clairvoyant.

"Anybody using their common sense would say, 'Why would police be utilising someone who's using tarot cards?'," he said. "It just defies belief.”

Mr Walsh also raised concerns the psychic's contact with key witnesses could distort memories.

The podcast also exposed police incompetence in Lynette Dawson's disappearance, which prompted a recent apology from the New South Wales police force.

Chris Dawson, who is on bail, attended today's hearing in Sydney but did not make any comment outside the Downing Centre Local Court.