Investigative journalist Hedley Thomas has rejected suggestions by lawyers for Chris Dawson that he influenced potential witnesses in Dawson’s murder trial by discussing likely movies or miniseries about the case.
Thomas, who produced The Teacher’s Pet podcast on the January 1982 disappearance of Lynette Dawson, was returning to give evidence in the NSW supreme court on Tuesday.
He said talk of interviewees playing a role in production was merely banter during interviews with them, which occurred before Dawson was charged.
“When you held out those deals to them … you appreciated that that would be attractive to them?” asked Dawson’s barrister, Pauline David.
“Possibly to some, but it might have been very unattractive to others who were introverted or didn’t want to be involved,” he said.
Thomas told the court that he had no roles to offer anyone, explaining that his interviews for the podcast occurred in the years before a deal had been struck with Blumhouse Television for a miniseries in September 2018.
Dawson, now 73, has been accused of murdering his wife and disposing of her body so he could have an unfettered relationship with his babysitter and former high school student, known as JC. He has pleaded not guilty and denies any involvement in her disappearance.
David suggested Thomas had corrupted and poisoned the recollections of potential witnesses by discussing his negative perceptions of Dawson with them before some had even stated to the police.
The Walkley award-winning journalist denied these allegations.
“These were intelligent people with their independent minds,” he told Justice, Ian Harrison.
The podcast was released in May 2018, a few weeks after a brief of evidence was sent to the Department of Public Prosecutions in April. Dawson was charged and arrested in December of that year.
In recorded conversations with interviewees played to the court, Thomas said he suspected Dawson had been suspended from a high school because he had sex with school girls. David referred to this as an unfounded rumor, while Thomas said it had not been published in the podcast.
Thomas was also heard saying that in the upcoming miniseries, scriptwriters could use poetic license to portray Dawson as someone cruel to animals in his youth.
This was merely a hypothetical suggestion plucked out of thin air about what could be portrayed in a later miniseries; he told the court.
The journalist said he had offered multiple chances for Dawson to come on the podcast for a completely unedited interview.
When these opportunities were rejected, Thomas talked to an anonymous Queensland district court judge and former lawyer about any weaknesses in a murder case that could be brought against Dawson.
The court heard a statement from the judge given its complete episode in the podcast.
“You included it for balance?” Harrison asked.
“Yes, your honor,” Thomas replied.
The trial continues.