Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, two young people who were celebrating New Year's Eve in the Marlborough Sounds. Their bodies have never been found and Scott Watson was later jailed for their murders - crimes he and his supporters maintain he never committed. Twenty years on, Herald reporters Carolyne Meng-Yee, Jared Savage and Mike Scott have teamed up to produce Chasing Ghosts: Murder in the Sounds; a podcast series and extended feature talking to many of those involved in the case that shocked the nation. In part two of the feature, we talk to the detectives who took down Watson, hear from Ben Smart's mother, and the Watson family open up about their ongoing efforts to free the man convicted of the murders.
Rob Pope and John Rae have heard it all before.
Twenty years ago, Pope was the detective inspector in charge of Operation Tam — investigating the disappearance of two young people, Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, who were celebrating New Year's Eve 1997 in the Marlborough Sounds — and Rae, his right-hand man.
Scott Watson was later convicted of the teens' murder despite their bodies never being discovered — a conviction that, 20 years on from their disappearance, is still staunchly questioned by Watson's family and other supporters.
They argue there are too many holes in the circumstantial case against Watson — and say an -innocent man has been jailed for 18 years for a crime he didn't ¬ commit.
But for Pope and Rae — as well as members of the Smart and Hope families — time has not dulled the view that Watson was responsible for the crime that shocked the nation.
"I think, 20 years on, the memories, the hurt and loss in terms of what both the Smarts and Hopes have been through is probably the most indelible reflection and constant thought from my perspective," Pope said.
"It would be very hard-nosed not to actually reflect that two young lives were lost through an absolutely abhorrent act. I do think about them, and equally their families."
Nothing has changed their minds about Watson's guilt, although Pope — who went on to become the Deputy Police Commissioner — diplomatically ¬acknowledges high-profile cases will always attract criticism.
"To be quite frank I wouldn't have it any other way," says Pope. "It's one of the great values of living in a democratic country like New Zealand and having a judicial system which is sound, fair and transparent."
Rae, who retired several years ago, is more blunt. "There are a few champions for the cause of Scott Watson for which I have no time. In actual fact, I have no doubt in my mind that he is guilty.
"I'm sure he knows where the bodies are. I doubt whether they are in the Sounds," said Rae.
They dismiss the "tunnel vision" criticism of the investigation to say there were 119 suspects — only Watson could not be eliminated.
As for the mystery ketch? It did not exist, at least not in Endeavour Inlet on the night in question.
Guy Wallace, who gave Ben and Olivia a ride on a water taxi, was adamant he took the pair to a ketch; an old-style two-masted timber yacht, about 40ft long, with brass portholes, a blue stripe on the hull and hemp ropes.
By contrast, Scott Watson's boat Blade is a 26ft long steel sloop, has no portholes, and a single mast.
Other boaties say they saw a ketch in the Marlborough Sounds that matched Wallace's description, but the ketch was ruled out of the inquiry.
Pope says "very, very extensive" efforts were made to identify around 750 ketches spotted around New Zealand and overseas.
When compared to other witness accounts, and the movements of Ben and Olivia on New Year's Eve, Pope said police decided to discard the ketch as a lead.
"The reality is that, even though many people will continue to dispute this, the ketch really did not exist."
The other criticisms of the case — the identification of Watson, the two hairs, the jailhouse snitches, the Erie Bay trip, the innocent explanations for the Blade evidence — were all covered in the 1999 trial.
Since then, the Court of Appeal has rejected his case, the Privy Council has refused to hear it. The Independent Police Conduct Authority criticised the photo montage used to identify Watson, but rejected most of the other allegations.
And the report of Kristy McDonald, QC, who investigated whether Watson should receive a Royal Pardon found that most of the issues raised in his application were not "fresh". They had been raised at the 1999 trial where the jury convicted him.
Pope says the 12 jurors sat through 11 weeks of the trial and thousands of pages of evidence.
"That provides the most balanced and fair presentation of what actually the prosecution case was about," says Pope.
"It's very easy to read a book or a series of books that may focus on a particular aspect but a circumstantial case relies on consideration of the totality, not just the elements or snippets of it.
"There is no such thing as a 100 per cent watertight case. If there was I would be looking very suspiciously at that."
Watson is a "psychopath", says Rae, whom he has no doubt has the capacity to kill again.
And the Parole Board agrees that Watson, now 46, still poses a risk to the public.
He "fell within a group of offenders who show an elevated rate and speed of recidivism, particularly relative to violence", according to psychologist's report at his most recent bid to be released from prison in December 2016.
While Watson maintained his innocence, the Parole Board noted its function was not to usurp the role of the court system.
"The person who committed these crimes was a cold-blooded killer. His victims must have died in terrible circumstances. Mr Watson has been found to be that man beyond reasonable doubt."
For Watson to be released from prison, he needs to show the Parole Board he is willing to change.
But because he mistrusts the justice and prison system, this could become a "block" to forming a relationship with his counsellor.
There are "two Scotts", according to an experienced prison officer who has known Watson through most of his time behind bars.
One who is "happy go lucky", "very helpful", and "not a threat to us in the unit [or] to other prisoners" when everything is going his way; the other, who is "very manipulative", "withdraws into himself", is "stand off-ish" and "doesn't tend to engage unless he has a support person with him", when he doesn't get his own way.
For these reasons, the Parole Board did not think Watson would be able to quickly reduce his risk of re-offending.
His next parole hearing was postponed for four years. By December 2020, he'll have been inside for 22 years.
It's a long wait for his partner, Christina Baker, a postie from Christchurch. They met years ago when Scott visited his ¬grandmother on the West Coast, where Baker grew up.
She is ¬ "deeply private", visits Watson weekly and doesn't believe he is capable of murdering Ben and Olivia.
"Never," she says.
There's no sympathy from Pope or Rae. But there is regret: the ¬bodies of Ben and Olivia were -never found.
"To me that was our biggest ¬failure," Rae says.
Pope: "My whole team would dearly have loved to bring home Ben and Olivia so John and Mary, Jan and Gerald, could actually properly grieve.
"We dearly would have loved to have brought finality."
There is no resolution for the Hope and Smart families, not now. Twenty years after their lives changed forever, they are still no closer to knowing what happened to their children.
It's not an anniversary, say Mary Smart and Gerald Hope, as there's nothing to celebrate.
"It's very sad to think what he would be doing now," Mary says of Ben. "He would probably be married with children and things like that, you think about. But nobody wants to talk about it anymore."
Not even the articulate Gerald Hope, who for many years questioned the evidence against Watson.
He even listened to Watson, over several days in Rolleston Prison, in meetings organised by North & South journalist Mike White.
But the door is closed now. Hope thought Watson's explanations were rehearsed and insincere.
"There has been so much of our lives taken up with this and there is nothing more for us to say. The only thing we would ever be involved with was if more evidence came to light.
"That'll be a long shot now."
And it's in the evidence where Chris Watson hopes to find finality for his son.
He remarried after the death of first wife Beverley; he and his new wife, Jo, were brought together by a love of sailing and cryptic puzzles.
If they're ever to see Scott Watson at the helm of Blade again, there's a new urgency to solving the puzzle which put him in prison. His father has been diagnosed with prostate cancer; the prognosis is grim.
While the Hope and Smart ¬families want to move on, Chris Watson wants to "keep the pot -boiling" as he puts it.
Even if he's no longer around to fight the injustice, as he sees it, friends and family will carry on ¬after he is gone.
"People are interested in this case. There are a lot of questions that need answering."
• See the full digital feature at nzherald.co.nz/murderinthesounds