Murder of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope
|Date||1 January 1998|
|Location||Endeavour Inlet, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand|
Ben Smart and Olivia Hope were two young New Zealanders who were murdered in the early hours of the morning on New Year's Day, 1 January 1998. The two friends had been celebrating on New Year's Eve at Furneaux Lodge in the Marlborough Sounds with other partygoers.
They accepted an offer from a stranger to stay aboard what he said was his yacht, and all three boarded the vessel at a time estimated between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. It was the last time the pair were seen, and their remains have never been found.
Police investigations began on 2 January 1998, after Smart and Hope's parents reported them missing. In the following months, police came to believe that the unidentified man was Scott Watson (born 28 June 1971).:118 Police charged Watson with murder and, after an eleven-week trial, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of seventeen years. Watson still protests his innocence; however after fruitless efforts, all avenues of appeal have failed.
Disappearance of Smart and Hope
The last confirmed sighting of Ben Smart (21) and Olivia Hope (17) was early on New Year's Day, 1 January 1998, by water taxi driver Guy Wallace, who transported them to a moored yacht in Endeavour Inlet off Furneaux Lodge, located in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand. The close friends had been celebrating New Year's Eve at the lodge with other partygoers. After leaving the party, they discovered that the boat Hope had arrived on, Tamarack, on which they intended to sleep, was overcrowded. They decided to look for alternative accommodation for the night and transferred from Tamarack to Wallace's water taxi, intending to go back ashore.
Aboard the small water taxi was a man who would later become crucial to the police investigation. According to Wallace and another couple who also rode in the water taxi, the man offered Ben and Olivia a place to stay aboard what he said was his vessel, which Wallace described as a two-masted ketch. The pair accepted the offer and all three boarded the boat at a time estimated between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. It was the last time the pair were seen.
Police investigations began on 2 January 1998, after the pair's parents reported them missing. The case was assigned the name Operation TAM (abbreviated from Tamarack). Police speculated that they had been murdered, but no bodies were found despite extensive searching in the months that followed. To this day, Smart and Hope remain missing.
In the months following the disappearances, police concluded that the unidentified man was Picton resident Scott Watson, although his yacht, Blade, was a single-masted steel-hulled sloop, not a double-masted ketch. Watson had 48 criminal convictions, mainly from when he was a teenager, for burglary, theft, cannabis offences, two counts of possessing an offensive weapon, and one of assault when he was 16. He had been imprisoned for two short periods in 1989 and 1990, but had just one minor conviction in the eight years leading up to 1998.
Murder arrest and conviction
Watson was arrested for the murders on 15 June 1998, two weeks before his 27th birthday. He was convicted of the murders in May 1999 after an eleven-week trial and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of seventeen years. Watson still says he is innocent, but all avenues of appeal have failed.
Appeals and controversies
The defence appealed Watson's conviction, and the case went to the Court of Appeal in April and May 2000. Three Appeal Court judges heard submissions from both the defence and the prosecution, but decided there was no new evidence to recommend a second trial. They disregarded the defence's submission that the prosecution's so-called "two-trip theory"[a] had appeared "out of the blue" late in the trial.
Questions have been raised about the manner of the police investigation, notably by Mike Kalaugher, who in 2001 published a book which was critical of methods allegedly used by police to obtain Watson's conviction, and by Keith Hunter, in a 2003 television documentary and a 2006 book.
In November 2000, after the Court of Appeal hearing, a witness who testified at Watson's trial contacted the Weekend Herald to say his evidence given under oath was "nothing more than an act". He said he was being threatened by gang members in prison; he was coming up for parole and was put under pressure by police to testify and, "I agreed on the basis that my life was getting threatened". The witness changed his story at least twice more, which led Watson's lawyers to conclude he was completely unreliable.
A 2010 report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority cleared police of allegations by Hunter and Watson's father Chris Watson. It found the police investigation had fallen short of best practice in areas which "had no significant bearing on the outcome of the investigation". No evidence was found that would support Hunter's other claims.
In June 2015 Watson successfully challenged at court the Corrections Department's refusal to allow him to be interviewed about his case by North and South journalist Mike White. On 8 and 9 November 2016, the interview went ahead as planned.
Also in June 2015, Watson was denied parole on the basis of two failed drug tests and an unfavourable psychological report that attested him "a very high risk" of committing violent acts if he was released from prison. On 6 December 2016, Watson was denied parole a second time because departmental psychologists again said his risk of violent offending was still "very high". By law, Watson must be reconsidered for parole before 6 December 2020, but can apply for an earlier hearing if he believes there has been a significant change in his circumstances.
In November 2017, a second application for a Royal Pardon was filed on Watson's behalf by an Auckland man and ex-convict who had taken an interest in the Watson case. The application concerned the reliability of the evidence relating to two blonde hairs found on a blanket on Watson's boat. It included a report by forensic scientist Sean Doyle which questioned whether the hairs were really Hope's, and criticised the way these hair samples were handled at the time of the original trial. The blonde hairs, believed to be Hope's, were the only physical evidence linking the couple to Watson.
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