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 a hundred sightings of the two-masted vessel round the Sounds and Golden Bay.)
Stitching up the suspect
By Roger Childs
The disappearance of Olivia Hope and Ben Smart in the Marlborough Sounds was the big news story of 1998.
Scott Watson was the main suspect for the police from early on, and he was subsequently tried and sentenced to 18 years in prison, for a crime he didn’t commit.
I think this is possibly the worst case of police duplicity in our history. Pope and his team are alleged to have:
~ twisted, and in some cases allegedly falsified, the evidence to suit their 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 second viewing of the docudrama Doubt:The Scott Watson Case, just reinforced what people, who have studied the case closely, have known since the start of the century.
Further reinforcement of Watson’s innocence, comes in a detailed article from North and South. (See The Meeting: Gerald Hope Scott Watson. Face to face for the first time in the January 2017 edition.)
One of the tragedies of this case, is that the man 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 already had a significant police record according to a search on www.checkpeople.com/arrest-records, mainly from his teenage years. He freely admits that was a little shit when he was younger.
He 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.
Also, 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.
The police pressurized Guy Wallace to change his evidence, but the water taxi driver, and four other people in the boat, were adamant that Ben Smart and Olivia Hope were definitely dropped off at a ketch.
A large ketch becomes a small sloop!
In the weeks that followed there were over a hundred sightings of the ketch and the people who saw it duly reported their evidence to the authorities. Some claim they actually saw the two missing young people on board.
Many commented, as Guy Wallace did, 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.
The police constantly said they had no interest in the ketch and 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
Some years ago North and South featured an in-depth article putting a strong case for Scott Watson’s innocence. The 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, including a secret prison witness who later retracted his story
~ there had been pressure put on others to change their stories, based on 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 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 wasn’t any solid evidence that Watson was the abductor: he had no motive, no access, and no weapon; no bodies were recovered; Watson had 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 the expert fail the first time, to miss the two fair hairs among the black, which the expert’s eagle eyes would have been 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 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 people testified that they actually climbed on to that boat with an unknown long-haired man.
Watson would have had to come back from his boat and get Olivia and Ben off the ketch! No-one saw Watson, after he went to his boat in the early hours of the morning.
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 off scot free.
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 18 years is exonerated.