13 Dec 2016

A decade waiting, still no answers

9:23 pm on 13 December 2016

Analysis - Murdered teenager Olivia Hope's father, Gerald, waited years to meet convicted killer Scott Watson. He could have become Watson's ally, but instead he walked away unconvinced. What were the four points Mr Hope couldn't reconcile?

Scott Watson at the High Court in Christchurch.

Scott Watson in the High Court in Christchurch Photo: Pool / John Kirk-Anderson

He waited years to meet Scott Watson.

Mr Hope has long doubted the evidence at trial proved Watson killed his daughter, Olivia, and her friend, Ben Smart, beyond any doubt.

He said meeting Watson would help him know if he was guilty or otherwise.

"We want some certainty," he told Checkpoint with John Campbell less than a year ago, when the meeting first looked likely.

Nearly 19 years after Ben, 21, and Olivia, 17, disappeared in the Marlborough Sounds on New Year's Day in 1998, Mr Hope and Watson met. The men talked for almost six hours, accompanied by journalist Mike White.

The result? Gerald Hope is unconvinced Watson is innocent. Four nagging questions about the evidence remain:

The time Watson returned to his boat Blade

Watson said he was taken back to his boat at 2am. The Crown said he went back about 4am. People on a boat tied to Blade were awake at 2.30am and did not see Watson there. Watson was in a fight at the Furneaux Lodge bar - witnesses said at 3am. The timing is important because Guy Wallace was the only water taxi operator working between 3.30am and 4am. Mr Wallace said he dropped Ben, Olivia and another man at a ketch.

Whether Watson and Blade were at Marine Head on 1 January

A boatie saw a man on a boat that looked like Blade at Marine Head, in Queen Charlotte Sound, about 9am on 1 January, 1998. Three other witnesses saw a boat that looked like Blade at Kurakura Point, south of Marine Head, about 10am. One saw two men on board painting the boat. Watson said they were mistaken and he went straight from Furneaux Lodge to Erie Bay, which is two hours from Kurakura Point.

Watson's arrival time at Erie Bay and what he did on New Year's Day

Watson said he got to Erie Bay on the morning of 1 January. The Picton Harbourmaster was at Erie Bay and did not see Watson there before they left at 5pm. Mr Hope said Watson was "elusive about what he did on 1 January 1998".

Why squabs in the cabin were damaged

Mr Hope said was not convinced the reason squabs from the main cabin of Watson's boat had sections cut out and picked out because of paint spillage or accidental burning from a cigarette.

Gerald Hope

Gerald Hope Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Mr Hope said an artwork Watson did not long after he was arrested showed Watson had no respect for women and lived "a dark fantasy where death was the currency of the day".

Mr Hope said his challenge to Watson was: "Convince me that you are innocent and I'll back you". Watson failed.

Now, after "so much said, written, filmed and speculated since 1998", Mr Hope does not want to talk about it anymore. He asked for no further interview requests.

A decade waiting for a "meaningful discussion", and he walked away no clearer.

Watson's father, Chris, said his son could answer Mr Hope's questions and commended Mr Hope for having "a mind open enough to talk to Scott".

Ian Wishart, who wrote several books about the Watson case, suspected Mr Hope left the meeting deflated.

"He was open to [Watson's innocence]. The reality is, he's come away thinking Scott Watson did, indeed, kill his daughter."


December 2016: Scott Watson goes before the Parole Board. The board reserves its decision, but says it will likely release it before Christmas.

November 2016: Olivia Hope's father, Gerald Hope, meets Scott Watson behind bars in two meetings. North and South journalist Mike White attends both.

2015: The Department of Corrections gives approval for White to interview Watson in Rolleston Prison. Watson, tells White he is innocent and that he feels police pursued him despite there being no evidence.

July 2015: Watson comes up for parole for the first time. It is declined. A report from a psychologist to the Parole Board said Watson had a very high risk of violent reoffending. Watson and his supporters complain to the Psychologists Board about the report.

May 2015: Watson goes to High Court in Christchurch to challenge a Corrections decision to ban him from an interview with North and South reporter Mike White. Justice Rachel Dunningham rules Corrections should reconsider.

2010: The Independent Police Conduct Authority, acting on complaints by journalist Keith Hunter and Watson's father, Chris, finds the police inquiry was reasonable and rational, apart from three aspects that had no significant bearing on the outcome.

2013: The Governor-General declines Watson's application to be pardoned.

2012: Watson is allowed out of jail to visit his sick mother. He attends her funeral in Christchurch, entering and exiting the chapel through a back door.

2003: The Privy Council finds no grounds for a further appeal.

2001-2002: Watson fails drug tests behind bars, though this is not made public until 2015.

1999: Watson is convicted of the killings after a trial. He is sentenced to life imprisonment with a 17 year non-parole period. The Court of Appeal rejects his appeal.

1998: While in custody awaiting trial for murder, Watson assaults a police officer and a fellow prisoner.

1 January, 1998: Ben Smart, 21, and Olivia Hope, 17, go missing from the Endeavour Inlet in the Marlborough Sounds. They are last seen boarding a yacht in the early hours. Their bodies are not found.

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