Audio has a powerful influence: Teacher’s Pet podcast journo Hedley Thomas

“Audio has a powerful influence on us,” according to Teachers Pet podcast producer Hedley Thomas.

Thomas has spoken about his podcast after Christopher Dawson was found guilty of murdering his former wife Lynette four decades ago on Sydney’s northern beaches.

In his verdict, New South Wales supreme court Justice Ian Harrison said: “None of the circumstances considered alone can establish Mr Dawson’s guilt… but when regard is had to their combined force, I am left in no doubt… The only rational inference [is that] Lynette Dawson died on or about 8 January 1982 as a result of a conscious or voluntary act committed by Christopher Dawson.”

Lynette Dawson’s family has credited Hedley Thomas and the Teacher’s Pet podcast for the renewed interest in the case that led to yesterday’s guilty verdict in the judge only trial.

Speaking to James Valentine on ABC Radio Sydney this morning, Hedley Thomas discussed the power of audio to “take people into a place that allows them to focus and be immersed in the story.”

He made the point that a written newspaper feature story is usually about 2000 words, but a podcast like The Teacher’s Pet has about 10,000 words in each episode, so there is much more content and depth in an investigative podcast than can be put into a written article.

The original investigative podcast became a controversial part of the trial when the court suppressed references that linked the podcast to coverage of the trial, those suppression orders were later lifted. Many outlets, including radioinfo, were the subject of the non-pubication orders. The Teachers Pet podcast was taken off line while the trial was in progress.

After The Teacher’s Pet was taken offline, The Australian newspaper and News Limited’s podcast division Newscast began a new podcast, called The Teachers Trail to cover the new proceedings without linking it to the original podcast series. The company had to separate Hedley Thomas from many parts of the production because he was called to appear during the trial.

Lynette Dawson’s family thanked the podcast and the media for their continued coverage of the case that has now led to the guilty verdict.

Speaking on today’s episode of The Front podcast, Hedley Thomas said:

“Even a 40 years old crime can be solved… how many other crimes might actually be the subject of renewed scrutiny so that killers can be put behind bars…

“The other issue that came out for me… was the idea that judges could tell journalists how to practice journalism. That for me was completely unacceptable… judges and defence lawyers need to stay in their lane… don’t intrude in our space.”

In his long and detailed judgement, Justice Harrison commented many times on the Teacher’s Pet podcast many times, including:

This trial has proceeded notwithstanding extensive publicity, including the wide dissemination of the podcast. That is a circumstance over which I have no control. It seems to me that I can do no more than remain constantly vigilant to ensure all evidence is scrutinised closely and that sight is not lost of the possibility, or on Mr Dawson’s contention the probability, if not the certainty, that the Teacher’s Pet podcast may in whole or in part have completely deprived some evidence of its usefulness.

Before leaving this topic, I should note that Mr Dawson tendered more than 200 pages of transcript from proceedings conducted in this Court between 16 and 20 July 2020 before Fullerton J on Mr Dawson’s application for a permanent stay. The transcript records, and is limited to, the entirety of the evidence in those proceedings given by Hedley Thomas. Despite the tender, I was not taken to this material in final submissions on behalf of Mr Dawson.

I have read all of this material. There are several themes advanced in the examination of Hedley Thomas by Mr Boulten SC. Included among them is the proposition that the Teacher’s Pet podcast presented a less than balanced view of the facts that it examined. I have taken this material into account in my consideration of the way in which the podcast may have corrupted evidence given in these proceedings…

I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the Crown has proved the single count in the indictment.

Christopher Michael Dawson, on the charge that on or about 8 January 1982 at Bayview or elsewhere in the State of New South Wales you did murder Lynette Joy Dawson, I find you guilty.



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