Dawson’s lawyers object to new evidence about hospital where Lynette was ‘seen’

Chris Dawson’s lawyers claim they would be put in an “impossible situation” if a judge allowed new Crown witnesses to give evidence at their client’s murder trial,as it enters its seventh week in Sydney.

The former teacher and Newtown Jets rugby league player,73,has pleaded not guilty to murdering his first wife Lynette Dawson,who vanished from Bayview on the Northern Beaches in January 1982.

Chris Dawson outside the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney last month.

Chris Dawson outside the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney last month.Edwina Pickles

The NSW Supreme Court heard the fresh evidence relates to the former Rockcastle Hospital,where Lynette’s neighbours Peter and Jill Breeseclaim they saw her working as a nurse in June 1984.

On Friday afternoon,prosecutor Craig Everson,SC,handed Justice Ian Harrison a document and said the Crown proposed to call the person identified to give evidence.

The judge noted the evidence “goes to who worked there[at the hospital] and who didn’t”.

Everson said there was another person,in a similar category,whose evidence the Crown will contend “is much stronger” and they were intending to get a statement over the weekend.

The court heard the site at Curl Curl is now South Pacific Private Hospital,a drug rehabilitation facility operating since 1993. The prosecutor said the current hospital did not have staff records from 1984.

Everson said if the judge ruled against allowing the new evidence,he would need to seek instructions from the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions. He said the evidence was a separate issue to the witnesses the judge last week ruled against allowing to testify.

The Crown opened its case on May 9 and is seeking to disprovealleged sightings of Lynette after January 9,1982. Everson,whose COVID-19 diagnosis prompted a seven-day adjournment mid-trial,told the court earlier on Friday he had hoped they would close their case by June 24.

Dawson’s barrister Pauline David opposed the new evidence and said if it was allowed in the trial,“we will need some time”. She said independent inquiries had previously been made,but they would need to consider further investigations about the hospital “no longer in existence”.

“We say that it is most unfair … if this material is now introduced in this trial,” she said.

David described the situation as a serious change and said it would be impossible to test the evidence,as former detectives and neighbours had already testified. The court heard Jill Breese’s recorded evidence from Dawson’s 2020 committal hearing as she was unwell.

Peter Breese accepted that while there was a possibility he may have mistaken the person he saw for someone else,he “had no doubt” it was Lynette Dawson in a nurse’s uniform at his door.

David said the proposed new evidence had small probative value and the witness “is a woman who says that she didn’t know anybody[working there] by that name”.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about the hospital,” she said. “We submit that this would place the defence in an impossible situation,at this stage,in endeavouring to respond to this material in the middle of a trial that is very close to finishing.”

The defence claims Dawson has been severely prejudiced “by the failure of the officers to do anything at the time”.

David said if the statement was within the brief in 2018,when Dawson was charged with murder,his lawyers would have had an opportunity to locate records,but “the opportunity to do so is now lost”.

“We haven’t made the inquiries that we may have otherwise … to verify or to get some other picture of the hospital.”

The judge said the opportunity was “not completely lost” as he could allow an adjournment.

Harrison said it was a “bare and undeniable fact” that the witness had not approached the Crown “before a couple of days ago”. He expected the parties to return to the issue on Monday.

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Sarah McPhee is a court reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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