Was the Lynette Dawson murder arrest sparked by The Teacher’s Pet podcast?
They say headlines help sell newspapers, but whether they help solve crimes is again up for debate following a breakthrough in the cold case of Lynette Dawson.
The disappearance of the mother of two from Sydney’s northern beaches captured worldwide attention this year with a popular podcast, but police sources deny it led to yesterday’s arrest.
Many times over the years the family had given up hope, believing it had been all but swept under the rug.
But according to Ms Dawson’s niece Renee Simms, the podcast by Hedley Thomas, which The Australian says has been downloaded more than 28 million times, has been influential in giving oxygen to the case.
Renee Simms thanked the podcast creator Hedley Thomas for keeping Lynette Dawson in the headlines. (ABC News: Ashleigh Raper)
“I am actually a really big fan of podcasts and I do listen to a lot of true crime,” she said.
“I sort of encouraged [my parents] and said ‘look, we haven’t gotten anywhere so far, what have we got to lose by doing this podcast?’
“Ultimately it has ended in what we were all after from the beginning.”
Depending on who you talk to, true-crime podcasts like The Teacher’s Pet have become a way of giving a justice to the voiceless, or providing a roadblock to investigators.
Police yesterday said the arrest was the result of additional witnesses who came forward — two, in particular, who were “not crucial, but corroborative”.
They would not reveal who the witnesses were or what new information they had, but it is believed Mr Dawson’s former schoolgirl lover, Joanne Curtis, has been interviewed several times over the years.
But in the age of the podcast, there is no doubt that the media’s role in reporting crime has changed forever.
“I see true-crime podcasts as a platform for more of an in-depth look in the justice system,” University of Technology Sydney law professor Thalia Anthony told the ABC.
“Although we have to be careful we don’t tip the balance too far one way or the other, there is no doubt it provides increased accountability on our justice system and police.
“And they’ve had a lot of good results.”
Chris Dawson is led by detectives after being arrested on the Gold Coast. (Supplied: NSW Police)
Serial, Trace podcasts spark second glances
The public’s morbid fascination with true crime is nothing new, and much has been said about the power of podcasts covering cold cases.
Many podcasts have flung open previously shut doors.
Just this week the Victorian Coroner reopened the investigation into the 38-year-old case of Maria James, whose murder was the subject of ABC’s Trace podcast series.
Adnan Syed has been granted a retrial since attracting worldwide attention in the Serial podcast. (Reuters, file photo)
Former detective Ron Iddles only had praise for Trace: “When a podcast gets 3 million downloads that is a new initiative that needs to be seriously looked at as a way of solving unsolved cases”.
Further abroad, the Serial podcast brought unprecedented attention to the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering his ex high-school sweetheart in Baltimore in the United States.
Fresh evidence uncovered by the series led to a retrial being granted, which is currently under appeal.
Proving the podcast’s high value in the hunt for clues, police in California this year created the Countdown to Capture series in the hope of tracking down a man charged with his wife’s murder.
And clues they do produce, with the number of anonymous tips to Crime Stoppers on podcast cases booming.
Cold case roadblocks
Speaking on the anticipated trial of Mr Dawson and the impact of the popularity of The Teacher’s Pet, Law Society of New South Wales councillor Thomas Spohr said the risk of “unfair publicity” was an issue the law has mechanisms to deal with.
Tom Spohr says one of the issues confronting the prosecution will be the passage of time. (ABC News)
“For example, fairly high-profile people get charged with crimes and the system is capable of dealing with that,” Mr Spohr said.
“The biggest issue [that] besets these sorts of trials tends to be about the unavailability of witnesses because of the passing the time, or if lawyers can’t find documents, rather than the fact it’s been in the media.”
According to Ms Anthony, the true-crime podcast — when done in a balanced journalist manner — was a powerful new element in the search for justice.
However, it did come with some negatives.
“It’s inevitable they (podcasts) will only focus on an ‘ideal victim’, which helps with the story,” she said.
“And there are many, many stories that don’t make it through the ‘media gatekeeper’.”