Talkback radio host Ben Fordham brokered a meeting between an investigative reporter and then New South Wales police commissioner, Mick Fuller, to discuss a podcast series on a missing Sydney mother, according to a 2020 court judgment which can now be reported.
Fuller then directed other officers, including the detective investigating the alleged murder of the woman, Lynette Dawson, to attend the meeting with The Australian’s Hedley Thomas after NSW police had “stonewalled” earlier inquiries by Thomas, according to the decision.
Details regarding the meeting were contained in an NSW supreme court decision handed down in September 2020, which can now be reported after suppression orders were lifted last month.
In 2018, Christopher Dawson was charged with murdering Lynette Dawson, his then-wife, in 1982.
Dawson was charged after Thomas published a podcast series for The Australian called The Teacher’s Pet, in which he alleged he had uncovered new evidence indicating Dawson may have killed his wife to continue an affair with a former student. Dawson has always denied the allegations.
In April 2020, Dawson applied for a permanent stay of the charge because the alleged murder had occurred a substantial time ago, there had been contamination of evidence and conspiracy between prosecution witnesses, and the combination of these factors prejudiced his ability to defend the allegations.
Justice Elizabeth Fullerton dismissed the application, which largely focused on the podcast’s effect. Dawson is on trial in a judge-only hearing at the NSW supreme court,pleadingd not guilty to murder.
Thomas gave evidence during the stay application hearing and released the first podcast episode in May 2018.
He told the court he had tried to engage with NSW police beforehand, including by contacting the communications manager of the NSW police requesting a “briefing” or “sit-down” with an officer investigating the case, but said he was “stonewalled”.
Thomas said he also had his then-editor-in-chief, Paul Whittaker, approach Fuller directly in January 2018, asking in an email to provide interviews with police and material for the podcast.
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“Commissioner Fuller and NSW Police should view The Australian’s forthcoming podcast series and associated publicity as an overdue opportunity to solve this case, which has troubled many people for 36 years,” the email, which had been written by Thomas and was included in the court judgment, read.
Thomas said the “breakthrough” in his dealings with NSW police occurred after Fordham, the 2GB host, was involved.
On 4 July 2018, a Teacher’s Pet co-producer emailed NSW police asking for a response, including why the force had not permitted interviews with police for the series and why they had not contacted Thomas about information he raised during the series.
An NSW Police spokesperson replied later that day with a statement from detective superintendent Scott Cook, whose response read in part: “Should criminal proceedings be commenced about this matter; it is vital that any prosecution can proceed properly.
“It is not in the interests of the victim, her family, or justice for the NSW Police Force to make further comment at this time.”
According to the judgment, Fordham then approached Fuller, with Thomas later describing the intervention in a recorded telephone conversation as brokering a “bit of a truce with the police”.
Nine days after NSW police told The Australian it could not respond to questions about the case, Cook, Fuller, Det Snr Cons Daniel Poole, the officer in charge of the investigation, the commissioner’s media adviser Grant Williams and the NSW state crime commander, Mal Lanyon, met with Thomas for lunch in Surry Hills.
The lunch had the effect of “unilaterally reversing the position” of police when it came to assisting Thomas, Fullerton found.
Poole told the court he was “directed” by Fuller to meet with Thomas, from which Fullerton inferred that Cook was also “directed” to reverse his position not to assist with the podcast.
Poole told the court that before that lunch, “it was our position that we weren’t engaging or having any involvement with Mr. Thomas or the podcast.”
Thomas emailed Fuller hours after the lunch, saying in part: “I think we are all on the same page in seeking to ensur[e] justice for the family.”
Fuller responded the next morning with an email that read in part, “it’s very difficult for NSW Police to run commentary on a brief under investigation and particularly as it makes its journey through the justice system.”
The pair had ongoing contact between the lunch and 5 December 2018, when Dawson was arrested, and Fuller said to Thomas, “you must be pretty happy, mate?”
Dawson’s trial continues in the NSW supreme court.