11.45am



The mother of convicted killer Scott Watson says she is determined to continue the fight to have her son released from prison.



The Privy Council today rejected Scott Watson's application to appeal against his convictions for the murders of Olivia Hope and Ben Smart.



Watson is serving at least 17 years' jail for murdering Miss Hope, 17, and Mr Smart, 21, who disappeared after boarding a boat in Endeavour Inlet in the early hours of New Year's Day 1998.

Advertisement


Beverly Watson told NZPA today that although the decision was a setback, the family's disappointment was tempered with realism.



She said her son's hearing was for the Privy Council to decide if it would hear his appeal. The Privy Council rarely agrees to hear criminal appeals from New Zealand -- it has heard only two since 1849.



"We know that this is just a battle in the war... We know our son is innocent and we'll keep doing whatever we have to do to get him out (of prison)."



She said one of the next steps available would be to try to petition the Governor-General for a pardon.



Mrs Watson said she had not yet spoken to Scott, but knew he would be disappointed.



"I told him not to get his hopes up too high, but he would have been thinking about it, how can you not? I know I was thinking about it every day in the last week, it was always in my mind. You can't stop your body getting excited about it," she said.



"But we were also prepared for the worst. You have to exhaust all the legal avenues before you can do anything else."



She said it was not easy for her and her husband to visit Scott as they lived in Picton, a long way from Auckland's Paremoremo Prison. They were also unable to phone him inside the prison and would have to wait for him to call them.



She said as the years passed since her son was convicted more and more people had offered support to the family, saying that they did not believe her son was guilty.



"I still get people who stop me in the street and stop me in shops to say they do not think it was right... People are still unsettled about the whole thing."



Despite a failed appeal and the latest setback at the Privy Council she said the family had never considered giving up the fight to prove Scott innocent.



"You just have to keep going. You can't go bury your head in the sand and think it's going to go away, because it's not going to go away. You have to keep fighting."



Watson's father, Chris Watson, said today giving up on the fight to have his son freed was not an option for the family.



"Just submit to a wrong? I don't think anybody should ever do that," he told National Radio.



"To not try is the worst thing anyone could do. You've got to keep just kicking against the pricks."



Mrs Watson said the family were surprised to be told by her son's lawyers that one of the judges at the hearing was a New Zealander.



"We thought it would all be people who were completely alienated from the original case."



Watson's lawyers, Mike Antunovic and Greg King, appeared last night (NZT) before the law lords sitting on the Privy Council's judicial committee who had already read the lawyers' written submissions.



After the application was dismissed, Mr Antunovic told NZPA the remaining options were that some "significant and important fresh evidence could arise" and he would also give careful consideration to presenting a petition to the Governor-General.



He said Watson would be "bitterly disappointed".



Mr Antunovic said previously that the two main grounds for overturning Watson's convictions were evidence aimed at identifying Watson as the killer and the way the jury was directed about the evidence.



Watson's legal team also challenged the decision of trial judge Justice Heron, who died last year, to allow the jury to hear evidence of three witnesses who said Watson talked about killing a woman before the night he was alleged to have murdered Miss Hope and Mr Smart. That evidence had earlier been ruled inadmissible.



The Court of Appeal in May 2000 dismissed Watson's appeal, ruling there was no substantial trial error or fresh evidence.



Much of the evidence during Watson's three-month murder trial in 1999 in the High Court at Wellington centred on the yacht Mr Smart and Miss Hope were last seen boarding. The Crown argued it was Watson's one-masted yacht Blade, but water taxi driver Guy Wallace gave evidence of a two-masted ketch.



Two hairs, which were "strongly indicative" of having come from Miss Hope, were found on a blanket on Watson's home-built sloop, though the defence raised doubts about the accuracy and reliability of DNA tests.



Other evidence included witnesses who told the court Watson had expressed a hatred of women, referred to killing a woman and had admitted to two inmates at Addington Prison that he had killed Mr Smart and Miss Hope.



After the Court of Appeal hearing, one of those inmates -- Witness A -- told a newspaper he had lied about Watson's confession. The witness then changed his story at least twice more -- leading Watson's lawyers to conclude he was completely unreliable.



Another key witness -- bar manager Roz McNeilly, who served a "mystery man" seen at Furneaux Lodge on New Year's Eve 1997 before Miss Hope and Mr Smart went missing from there -- has changed her trial evidence and signed an affidavit saying the man she served was not Watson.



The statement said she became adamant she had made a mistake after a picture taken of Watson on the night was published in a police-authorised book, Silent Evidence. The photo showed Watson was shaved and had short hair, but the man she served that night had shoulder-length hair and two days' facial growth.



Her description tallies with that of Guy Wallace, who delivered Miss Hope and Mr Smart, along with the man presumed to be their killer, to the boat in Endeavour Inlet.



The bodies of the two Blenheim friends have never been found.




- NZPA