The ketch doesn’t exist. —Inspector Pope on the boat that water taxi driver Guy Wallace delivered the young couple to on 1 January 1998 (The Police actually received information of about one hundred sightings of the two-masted vessel round the Sounds and Golden Bay.)

Stitching up the suspect

An opinion piece by Roger Childs

Scott WatsonScott Watson caseThe disappearance of Olivia Hope and Ben Smart in the Marlborough Sounds was the big news story of 1998. Now 22 years later, the case against Scott Watson, accused of their murder, is going back to the Court of Appeal.

Watson was the main suspect for the police from early on in the investigation, and he was subsequently tried and sentenced, for a crime he didn’t commit.

This is possibly the worst case of police duplicity in our history. Pope and his team–

 ~ twisted, and in some cases falsified, the evidence to fit their prime suspect

 ~ ignored possible leads and evidence linking a mystery man to the crime

 ~ harassed Watson family members and bugged their homes

 ~ pressured witnesses into changing their stories

 ~ manipulated the media.

A 2016 televised docudrama Doubt: The Scott Watson Case (viewable here), showed up what people, who had studied the case closely, had known from the start. Then a detailed article in the January 2017 edition of North and South provided further reinforcement of Watson’s innocence. Hopefully the new Appeal Court proceedings will see justice done at last.

One of the worst features of this case, is that the person(s) responsible for the abduction got away with it, and may well be living in Australia or beyond.

No substantive evidence

Scott Watson was not a “Mr Nice Guy” and at the time of the disappearance of the young couple, already had a significant police record, mainly from his teenage years. He freely admits that was a little shit when he was younger. 

Scott Watson's boatHe was at Furneaux Lodge on the fateful night, had a single-masted sloop moored there and was involved in some boorish behaviour during the New Year’s Party. 

He did leave early the following morning, but could not have had the young couple on board because they had been delivered by Guy Wallace to a two-masted ketch the night before. 

A large number of people testified that a “mystery man” was present at the party and that he climbed up on to his ketch along with the couple.

Scott Watson case 1The police pressurized Guy Wallace to change his evidence, but the water taxi driver, and four other people in Wallace’s boat, were adamant that it was definitely a ketch that Ben Smart and Olivia Hope were delivered to. 

A large ketch becomes a small sloop!

In the weeks that followed, there were over a hundred sightings of a two-masted ketch, and the people who saw it duly reported their evidence to the authorities. Some claim they actually saw the two young people on board.

 Many commented, as did Guy Wallace, about the brass work around the portholes and the blue strip of paint along the outside. (Watson’s sloop had no portholes and was partly painted red at the time.)

But the police were not interested in other lines of inquiry, as they were convinced that they had their man. Their case was built on the young couple leaving the waters off Furneaux Lodge in Watson’s small one-masted sloop “Blade”, not on an inconvenient two-masted ketch.

Scott Watson case Hope and Watson

Gerald Hope (Olivia’s father) is on the left and Scott Watson on the right

The police constantly said they had no interest in the ketch and Inspector Pope even claimed it didn’t exist! 

This is equivalent to a hundred witnesses saying that someone was run over by a large four door Mercedes, and the authorities saying No, it was a two door Volkswagen. 

Beyond belief and reasonable doubt

North and South’s in-depth article put a strong case for Scott Watson’s innocence. This investigative piece emphasised that: 

 ~ it was the ketch rather than a sloop that should have been the focus of inquiries 

 ~ there were some dodgy witnesses involved in the court case , including  a secret prison witness who later retracted his story

 ~ there had been pressure put on others to change their stories, based on being shown a photo of a dishevelled Watson taken later while he was in custody. (On New Year’s Eve at Furneaux Lodge, Watson had tidy short hair and police did have another photo of him on the night.)

Two key witnesses at the trial were unnamed prisoners, who testified that Watson confessed to them in jail that he had committed the crime. (Watson has always maintained his innocence.) 

One of these “secret witnesses” later admitted that he had lied and the other was bribed by the authorities.

Basically there was no solid evidence that Watson was the abductor: he had no motive, no access, no weapon, no bodies, no scratches and was on the wrong boat.

The crown case was based on very flimsy threads such as:

 ~  two hairs, that might have been Olivia’s, on a blanket in Watson’s boat. These were only discovered after the prosecution insisted on the forensic expert having a second look at the evidence. How could she fail the first time, to miss the two fair hairs among the black, which her eagle eyes would have searching for?

 ~ scratches on the hatch cover of Blade that were claimed to be Olivia’s work attempting to  escape. However, it was explained that the scratches went right to the edge of the cover which was inaccessible when closed. 

 ~ Watson repainting his boat early in 1998.

People watching the 2016 docudrama, who were not in New Zealand at the time of the case or who had not studied it, would have been incredulous about the outcome of the trial.

No-one saw the couple getting on Watson’s boat, but a large number of people saw them get into the water taxi heading for the ketch, and five testified that the two young people actually climbed on to that boat with an unknown long-haired man. 

To have abducted the pair, Watson would have had to come back from his boat and entice Olivia and Ben off the ketch!

The Police and the prosecution were in a world of fantasy and Justice Mahan’s comment from the Erebus inquiry comes to mind: “… an orchestrated litany of lies.”

A miscarriage of justice

Scott Watson had been in trouble with the police many times in the 1980s and1990s, and seemed like an obvious suspect. However, on the basis of the evidence outlined above, he should have been quickly eliminated as the probable perpetrator of the crime.

However, the police were under a lot of pressure from the media and the public to come up with a culprit for the crime of abducting the two students. 

As Olivia’s father Gerald said: The police were out to get their man, we were out to get the man, everybody was focusing on the conviction and they did what it took to do it.  

This was a shocking case of getting the evidence, by fair means or foul, to fit the suspect. Watson didn’t have a motive, the opportunity or the access to the young couple who were on a different boat at the time. 

Only one person knows for sure what happened to Olivia Hope and Ben Smart, and that is the mystery man who got away with the crime.  

One telling element of the docudrama was that the police were not prepared to take part and justify their findings. For them the case is closed; end of story.  

But this story will not go away until a man who has been wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years is exonerated. Hopefully, that will happen at the Court of Appeal later in the year.