At the age of 14, Lizzy was a keen and successful competitor in sport. She did so well that she was encouraged by her coach to introduce herself to Jim Dawsett, who was involved in national competitions and also organised overseas trips.
Lizzy met Dawsett who, soon afterwards in the 2010s, arranged sponsorship for Lizzy to go to an overseas competition.
Lizzy’s mother, Sandra, accompanied her daughter to a private session with the Royal Commission. She remembers asking Lizzy’s coach about Dawsett.
‘I said, “Is he an okay person?” I don’t know what made me say the words but that’s how I said it.’
Reassured that he was safe, Sandra allowed Lizzy to go on the trip. Several months later, Dawsett began to befriend Lizzy. He chatted with her extensively particularly in online conversations and confided in her about his feelings and difficulties. As he created a sense of dependence on her and bought her gifts, Lizzy came to think of him as a friend.
A few months later, Sandra saw emails and online conversations in which Dawsett had made sexualised and other comments towards Lizzy and these caused Sandra to feel ‘alarm’. She spoke to Lizzy’s coach who suggested she take what information she had to police.
‘The first bit of information I gave them was actually a poem that he had sent to Lizzy and that was what rang alarm bells in the first place with me ‘cause I didn’t think it was appropriate. I gave that in at the police station and they said they were actually aware of the particular poem and that it was one which was used for grooming’, Sandra said.
Lizzy didn’t want her mother interfering and at first refused to participate in any discussion about Dawsett. Her phone had been confiscated and when she told Dawsett this, he asked whether she’d deleted everything. When she said that she hadn’t, he replied, ‘This could be bad’.
As police continued their investigation, Sandra made a complaint to the head of the sport’s association and received a reply stating that Dawsett had been directed not to have face-to-face contact with Lizzy and that henceforth he’d need approval to organise any trips. However, he continued in his role.
Dawsett reduced contact with Lizzy to communicating with her only via a third party. Still upset with her mother and that police were involved in her personal affairs, Lizzy tried to maintain contact with Dawsett, but on a trip away saw him buying cocktails for a 16-year-old girl who was ‘tipsy’.
‘I sort of thought, that’s really strange and that’s when it kind of dawned on me, that’s not right.’
Sandra had tried to get the sport’s governing body to stop Dawsett accompanying children on trips altogether but wasn’t successful. She’d also contacted other parents who dismissed her concerns, with one mother saying, ‘He wouldn’t do anything to my daughter’.
By this time, Lizzy was struggling emotionally and physically. Her school attendance was fractured and the promising path towards representing the country in international competitions was thwarted. She sometimes felt excluded in training, particularly when Dawsett was around or involved in getting sponsorship deals for the team.
‘My mum got a hold of police and my world crumbled’, Lizzy said. ‘[Or] what I thought was my world, because he was no longer allowed to talk to me and things like that. So my attitude definitely did change. I thought everyone was against me, but I would say I went on the team and I definitely know he was talking to another girl on that … team and doing the same sort of thing and that’s when I kind of realised you know. It wasn’t - he wasn’t trying to be friends with me. He was trying to you know, take advantage of me.'
‘August or September I went away and that’s when I really realised. You know I was still upset, I still wanted to talk to him ‘cause he was a friend or what I thought, but it was sort of obvious that that wasn’t what he wanted by then.’
A few years later Dawsett was convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment for child sex offences. Despite this, neither Lizzy nor Sandra received an apology from the sport’s governing body.
‘I just feel that organisations should take care of their members more’, Sandra said. ‘As a parent I felt betrayed by them. I’d always had great faith in them so I felt as if they not only betrayed me, but they’ve just done everything the wrong way round like protect the wrong person.’
Lizzy told the Commissioner that she was now living with a supportive partner and working in an area that she liked. Although she had plans to go back into training, she wondered whether she’d missed the opportunity to excel internationally.
‘You don’t know, maybe I would never have made it. You don’t know. I would have had a better chance for sure but I don’t know if I would have made it either way.’