David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Scott Watson launches legal action against Department of Corrections

Convicted murderer Scott Watson in 1998. File photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Convicted murderer Scott Watson in 1998. File photo / Glenn Jeffrey

Scott Watson is going to court to force the Department of Corrections to allow him to meet the father of the woman he was convicted of murdering.

Legal papers were filed with the High Court yesterday stating the the Department of Corrections had illegally delayed making a decision which would allow Gerald Hope to visit Watson, who was convicted of murdering his daughter Olivia.

Mr Hope had applied to visit Watson - fulfilling a desire to "look him in the eye" and ask if he had killed his daughter.

But the plan was thwarted by prison bosses because the person chosen to create a record of the meeting for the men was a journalist - although one who has no immediate plans to publish details about the meeting.

Watson was convicted in 1999 of murdering Ms Hope and her friend Ben Smart. The pair went missing after a New Year's Eve party in the Marlborough Sounds a year earlier.

Doubts have long been voiced over the conviction - including by Mr Hope.

In a 2007 North & South article, Mr Hope told journalist Mike White: "What we got was a conviction but we never got the truth. Nothing ever was confirmed, it was all circumstantial, there was no hard evidence.

"I'm not saying [Scott Watson] is not guilty. What I'm saying is let's clear up the doubt."

Olivia Hope.
Olivia Hope.

Watson's father Chris said last night Mr Hope wanted to "look Scott in the eye" and ask if he had killed his daughter.

"He's a seeker after the truth," said Chris Watson.

The court papers stated the application for Mr Hope to visit Watson was made in October. The application also sought permission for Watson's lawyers and Mr White, the journalist who reported Mr Hope's concerns around the conviction.

Corrections' media manager Chris Wright stalled the request, saying a decision on another application - unrelated to Watson - could "have a bearing on the way we consider all media requests to interview prisoners".

Corrections lost the case - believed to be a Fairfax application to visit a recidivist maximum security prisoner - but still stalled Mr Hope's application. According to the legal papers filed with court, Mr Wright said it was not possible to give a date as to when a decision would be made. Further efforts at correspondence were ignored by Corrections, the Statement of Claim said.

Watson's lawsuit claims Corrections chief executive Ray Smith had acted illegally by not making the decision in a "timely manner".

It sought court intervention, asking the High Court to force the department to make a decision - and to make a ruling the delay was unlawful.

Mr White, who had covered the case since the murder, said he was going along as an independent party who had known both men for a long time to create for them an independent record of what took place.

It was hoped having a neutral person at the meeting would allow the creation of an independent record both men could later refer to in case of any disagreement or dispute.

In doing so, it was hoped it would help manage an "emotionally-charged meeting" between "the father of a murdered girl and the man convicted of killing her", he said.

"The meeting wasn't something I came up with. Both parties have asked for me to be involved. The idea of writing something in the future has occurred to me but that's not what's driving this.

"There has been no discussion about stories."

Strict rules govern prison interviews by media. The serving chief executive of the department must give permission for interviews to be conducted - although the regulations make no reference to visits by journalists where they do not conduct interviews.

Corrections' corporate services manager Vince Arbuckle said the unrelated case was now being appealed and no comment would be made.

The Hope family (from left) Jan, Amelia and Gerald Hope arrive at the Blenheim District Court. Photo / NZ Herald
The Hope family (from left) Jan, Amelia and Gerald Hope arrive at the Blenheim District Court. Photo / NZ Herald

- NZ Herald

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