17 Aug 2016

Watson back in court over media access

8:12 pm on 17 August 2016

A meeting between convicted double murderer Scott Watson and the father of one of the victims could result in psychological harm, warns Corrections.

Watson is back before the courts in a bid to have a journalist on hand during the meeting.

Watson was convicted of the murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope on New Years Eve 1998.

He is seeking a judicial review so that North and South journalist Mike White can report on his first-ever meeting with Gerald Hope - something Mr Hope also wants to happen.

Mr Hope wants to meet with Watson and question him about the murders, which Watson has always denied committing.

Justice Jillian Mallon told the court corrections' position was odd.

Justice Jillian Mallon Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Corrections has opposed Mr White attending the meeting in his capacity as a journalist, on the grounds it was not necessary.

Today, in the High Court in Christchurch, Justice Mallon said Corrections' position was odd.

"He is a professional journalist, he can be there as a facilitator but he can't be there in his professional capacity not withstanding that he may report about it later."

Mr White interviewed Watson last year, the first time Watson had given a media interview since his arrest.

Watson's lawyer, Kerry Cook, said Corrections' fears that giving media access to Watson would set a dangerous precedent for other inmates wanting to plead their case were wrong.

"Watson's case is one of the few that has intrigued the public and maintains that public interest.

"Prisoners don't have the access to say 'I want the media to come and see me now'. That's not right, that's why we've got this legislative regime in terms of the regulations and any suggestion this will open the flood gates is just not founded."

Corrections lawyer Daniel Perkins said the meeting should not be recorded because it could go badly and cause Watson or Mr Hope psychological harm.

"That harm would be magnified if it was harm that was witnessed by a third party, who then proposes to expose the circumstances in which that harm took place to the world at large through the publication of media articles."

Mr Hope travelled from Blenheim for today's hearing.

Gerald Hope

Gerald Hope Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Outside court he said he appreciated Corrections' concern for his well-being, but that he was not worried about the consequences of meeting his daughter's killer.

"Please be assured I'm psychologically sound and I'm not prone to violence. All I'm seeking is a rational discussion and with honest answers."

Having initially been reluctant to meet with Watson in the presence of Mr White, Mr Hope said he now had no problem with this and described Mr White as a journalist with a high level of integrity.

As for what he would ask Watson, Mr Hope said he wanted to keep this to himself in the meantime.

"The questions I've been asking in my head for almost 20 years need to be asked. Those questions I think are probably best left till the time we meet, Scott and I.

"They're not too onerous, if they're honestly answered, I'll be satisfied."

Mr Hope still believed Watson was guilty but wanted to clear up some unanswered questions about the case.

A good compromise could be allowing the meeting to be recorded and then getting the okay from both parties before it was used in a story, he said.

Justice Mallon has reserved her decision.

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