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Dawson’s ‘unwise’ choices after wife’s disappearance not enough for murder conviction, court told

Chris Dawson told a court he had a “very loving relationship” with his wife Lynette Joy Simms and insisted any alarm bells before and after her disappearance were not enough to warrant a murder conviction.

user iconNaomi Neilson 14 May 2024 Big Law

Credit: NSW Supreme Court.

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In the days after Simms, then 33, disappeared from her Sydney northern beaches home in January 1982, Dawson, 75, drove out to South West Rocks to pick up a teenage schoolgirl – who can only be legally identified as JC – and moved her into the marital bed.

Appearing in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal on Monday (13 May), Dawson’s senior public defender, Belinda Rigg SC, said while “it’s not admirable, it’s not wise”, this was not enough for Justice Ian Harrison to convict him of Simms’ murder in August 2022.

“The nature of his interests in JC is, in our submission, related to the very reason his wife left – they’re not strangely coincidental occurrences, these are all intertwined,” Rigg said.


Dawson, who appeared in his prison greens via an audio-visual link, has been sentenced to 24 years for Simms’ murder, with an 18-year non-parole period. Simms’ body has never been found.

One of Dawson’s grounds of appeal includes a claim Simms called him at the Northbridge Baths, his then-workplace, on 9 January 1982 – after he was said to have murdered her – to say she needed time away.

By that stage, Dawson was in a relationship with JC. Around Christmas, the two had run away to Queensland to continue their relationship but came back when JC said she missed her family.

Rigg said at the time of Simms’ disappearance, she and Dawson were also at an “absolute crossroads” and had tried a counselling session while JC was away at South West Rocks with some family.

She added the fact he attended the counselling session “is indicative of some ongoing care of and functional relationship with his wife”.

Rigg told the Court of Criminal Appeal this was also the actions of a man who had “feelings” for both Simms and the teenage girl.

“The evidence suggests that when JC withdrew from him in January 1982, he made more effort in the relationship with his wife and it’s open for the court to review it as plausible that when his wife left him … saying she needed to take some time, he reverted back and made more effort to have JC brought back to be with him,” she said.

In that light, Rigg said it was plausible for Dawson to tell police Simms had left him and he moved JC in to help with his two young children.

During Monday’s hearing, Rigg went on to reject the Crown’s evidence that Simms, a devoted mother, could not have left her children because she had been in the habit of occasionally leaving the children in the care of her husband or with other people.

In the days leading up to her disappearance, the court was told Simms and Dawson were planning to spend five days alone at a beach.

“In our submission, it bears upon the preparedness to be away from her children for a period of time,” Rigg said.

Another ground of appeal is the “significant forensic disadvantage” Dawson was subjected to because of the almost 40-year difference between Simms’ murder and his criminal trial.

Philip Day, who was said to have been present at the Northbridge Baths when the phone call was made, had died.

The phone records had also been lost.

Rigg added memories could also not be relied upon.

Referring to evidence from JC at the trial, Rigg said: “There are certainly conversations people have in their life in which some specific phrases will be remembered … and many more where nothing is remembered at all. Delay is a very important factor.”

The hearing continues.