David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Sounds murders: The questions that need answering

Olivia Hope, left, four days before she disappeared. Right, Scott Watson, who denies killing her.
Olivia Hope, left, four days before she disappeared. Right, Scott Watson, who denies killing her.

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Scott Watson is serving 19 years in prison for the murders of Olivia Hope, 17, and Ben Smart, 21. The pair disappeared on New Year's Day 1998 and led to a massive police investigation and Watson's eventual conviction in 1999.

Watson has always denied involvement in the murders. Questions over his conviction include:

1. Watertaxi operator Guy Wallace dropped Olivia Hope, Ben Smart and the "mystery man" at a yacht he described in detail as a ketch. It was the last sighting of the two young people. Wallace initially identified Scott Watson, who was convicted of the murders, as the man who was with Hope and Smart but has since retracted his identification. However, he has not moved on his description of the ketch. Wallace was a key witness for the Crown.

2. Wallace's description of the vessel to which he delivered Hope and Smart led to an initial search for similar craft. There were a number of sightings of a 12m ketch (a two-masted vessel) as described by Wallace. Police have been accused of ignoring the ketch angle and focusing on Watson and his 7.2m single-masted sloop, Blade. The Crown has used photographs of the bay on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day to rebut claims of the ketch but it has also been claimed it came and went during the night.

3. Rozlyn McNeilly was also a key identification witness for the Crown. She identified Watson as being the man she served at the bar of Furneaux Lodge on New Year's Eve, linked by police to the murders. She has also retracted her identification, saying she was tricked by police. The Independent Police Conduct Authority was critical in 2010 of the police identification process.

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4. The identification process has been intensely criticised. The "mystery man" description and the identikit issued by police based on those descriptions show an unshaven man with shoulder-length hair. Images taken on New Year's Eve show Watson as clean-shaven with tightly-cropped hair. There was also a claim the "mystery man" had hooded eyes, as illustrated in a photograph of Watson shown to witnesses by police. It emerged the photograph was taken when Watson was blinking and his eyes were half-shut.

5. 5 One secret jailhouse witness testified that Watson confessed in prison. The inmate later retracted his claim.

6Another secret jailhouse witness has had his credibility questioned after it emerged he received assistance from the police after testifying.

7. Guy Wallace has offered further information which increased speculation about the ketch, naming a specific location were he claims to have seen Hope, Smart and the "mystery man".

8. Although police say Wallace took Watson -- "the mystery man" -- to a boat in the bay with Hope and Smart, another water taxi driver named John Mullen emerged to say he ferried someone resembling Watson to a boat. Watson had previously described the water taxi operator who had taken him to Blade, and Mullen matched that description.

9. Witnesses on a boat alongside Blade have given a version of events which competes with Crown testimony about Watson being returned to Blade. The Crown testimony attacked by the witnesses including the retracted evidence of Wallace.

10. The only DNA evidence in the case were two blonde hairs matched to Olivia Hope from a blanket inside Blade. They were not present on the first search of 400 hairs but were found on the second search -- the same day Hope's hairbrush with her hair was present in the ESR lab.

- NZ Herald

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