Family of Warialda man upset at police response to tragedy

Family members of a Warialda man who died last week have voiced their disappointment with the police response to their tragedy.

Fifty-three-year-old Don Dawson went missing from the home he shared with his wife on Friday, November 30 with family members growing concerned and contacting police from Barwon Local Area Command about10pm on the Friday to report his disappearance.

Daughter-in-law Sarah Dawson said the family was frantic early on Saturday morning when Mr Dawson still had not returned home and began to conduct their own search on foot and using motorbikes.

“We were so worried, we thought he’d just gone for a long walk, possibly broken a bone or been bitten by a snake,” Mrs Dawson said.

Ringing the police again on Saturday she said she told them of a sighting of Mr Dawson in Queen St about half an hour before he was last seen and asked the police to begin searching for him.

She said the policeman she spoke to said they could not begin a search as they did not have enough intelligence on his last known whereabouts.

“I literally begged and pleaded with them to start searching. I said ‘if it was your father missing, wouldn’t you go?’” Mrs Dawson said.

She said two police officers came over at 10.30am the next day, saying they would be doorknocking around the neighbourhood and were beginning their investigations into the disappearance.

The Queen St sighting later turned out to have an ominous significance for the Dawsons as his body was found less than four kilometres from there.

Mrs Dawson said the family also contacted the State Emergency Service on Saturday to request their help but was told police needed to initiate the search. 

The family put out a call to all their extended relatives and friends on Saturday, asking them for help searching a 20km radius around the family home.

About 45 people rallied to help on Sunday morning, searching by helicopter, on foot and with motorbikes and by horseback in and around the area until a grisly discovery just after lunch brought the search to a halt.

About 2.30pm close family friends stumbled across Don’s body lying in bushland.

There were no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.

Mrs Dawson described the incident as “gutting”, saying no family or friends should have to see a member of their family in that situation.

“It was very hard for them to find Don like that. None of us were emotionally equipped to deal with that situation,” Mrs Dawson said.

The grandfather-of-two had just recently moved back to Warialda and bought a new home and his family said his disappearance was “completely out of character”.

His mother had died recently, which one of his brothers Reg believes may have had an impact on Don’s mental health.

“We have a very big family, seven brothers, three sisters but we’re very close,” he said.

“Six weeks ago we lost our mum. I’d say it had an impact on him, but he was such a happy-go-lucky kind of guy.” 

Mrs Dawson described her father-in-law as a kind, gentle and loving person who spoiled his family whenever he could.

“He was a man that everyone looked up to.”

The family said their pain at losing Don was compounded by what they say was an indifference on the part of the Barwon LAC to their tragedy.

“The police refused to dispatch any search or rescue services throughout the time Don was missing,” Mrs Dawson said.

She said an update by the police on their official Facebook page saying they had been extensively involved in the search and finding Don’s body was “galling”.

“We never saw a police officer during our search until the very end,” she said.

“They didn’t take Don’s disappearance seriously enough. To have to co-ordinate your own search with your own resources is just incredible.”

Having already published letters to the editor in the Warialda Standard, The Inverell Times and The Moree Champion voicing her concerns, she said she would also be writing to NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione this week.

“We just don’t want another family to have to go through this,” she said.

When contacted by The Leader on Friday, Barwon LAC referred to the media release about the incident on their Facebook page and said they would be making no further comment.

Don Dawson will be farewelled today at 11am at St Simon and St Jude’s Anglican Church in Warialda.

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