Scott Watson wants crucial identifying evidence reviewed in new appeal
Crucial eyewitness evidence against Sounds killer Scott Watson could form part of his further appeal against his conviction.
Watson was found guilty of murdering friends Olivia Hope, 17, and Ben Smart, 21, early on January 1, 1998 after New Year’s Eve celebrations at Furneaux Lodge in the Marlborough Sounds. Their bodies were never found.
Watson has always denied meeting Hope and Smart, having them on his yacht, or killing them, and his case remains one of the most controversial in the country.
However, Watson, now 50, has spent nearly 24 years in jail and remains there after being denied parole four times.
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The case against Watson rested most heavily on two hairs found on a blanket on Watson’s yacht, Bladewho were paired with Olivia Hope.
Continued concern over the reliability of forensic testing of this hair led to Watson’s case being referred to the Court of Appeal by the Governor-General in August 2020.
However, Watson’s legal team is seeking to have another key part of the case against Watson re-examined and included in its appeal later this year.
It concerns the identification of Watson as the man last seen with Hope and Smart, by Guy Wallace, the driver of a water taxi that delivered the Friends to a yacht with a mysterious man.
Wallace described a man inviting Hope and Smart to stay on his yacht, which Wallace described as a 38- to 40-foot (two-masted) wooden ketch with portholes, a blue stripe along its hull, and lots of ropes. Watson’s yacht had only one mast and was a 26-foot homebuilt steel vessel, with no portholes, no banding on her hull or extensive rigging.
Early in the investigation, police showed Wallace a photo of Watson, and Wallace said he did not recognize him and was not the man in the water taxi with Hope and Smart.
He also denied that Watson was the mystery man, when he was shown video and photos of Watson by the media.
Police prepared an early montage of photos of the men, including Watson, in January 1998, but no key witnesses identified Watson as the mystery man they had seen, from this “A montage”.
In March 1998, police changed Watson’s photo to a new montage, to one of him taken mid-wink with his eyes half-closed.
When this “montage B” was shown to Guy Wallace the following month, he cautiously identified Watson as the mystery man, based on the appearance of his drooping eyes, which resembled the mystery man he had seen at Furneaux Lodge – although he noted there were also differences in appearance.
Watson was the only person in the montage shown with half-closed eyes.
Later, in a preliminary hearing and at Watson’s trial, Wallace denied or hesitated whether the man he identified in Edit B was the person he dropped off on a yacht with Hope and Smart.
However, his earlier identification of Watson was used as crucial evidence by the Crown.
After the trial, Wallace, who died last year, still denied that Scott Watson was the man he last saw with Hope and Smart, and said he felt he had played a role. role in sending an innocent man to prison.
Watson’s lawyers want the Mount B evidence to be considered alongside the hair DNA evidence when the Court of Appeal hears his new appeal in August.
In the Court of Appeal today, one of Watson’s lawyers, Nick Chisnall, argued that the evidence was inextricably linked and that it was crucial that the identification of Guy Wallace be considered by the court .
Without those two pieces of evidence, “the Crown’s case has no real strength,” Chisnall told Justices Stephen Kos, David Collins and Murray Gilbert.
Watson’s attorneys argue that Wallace’s identification of Watson in Edit B was inadmissible evidence due to the unfair photo of Watson that was used and should not have been shown to the jury at his trial.
They point to a report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority which said the methods employed regarding Mount B “were highly undesirable and fell far short of best practice”.
Watson’s other lawyer, Kerry Cook, said the security court’s review of Watson’s conviction “should not be emasculated with a straitjacket” over what evidence could be considered, in this which was a circumstantial case.
The possibility of miscarriage of justice must be avoided, to ensure public confidence in the courts and the justice system, Cook stressed.
However, Deputy Solicitor General Madeleine Laracy pushed back, arguing that the case was sent to the Court of Appeal on narrow grounds – the reliability of the tests of the hairs found on Watson’s yacht – and that it should be monitoring.
She said the issue of fairness surrounding Watson’s photos in Edit B had already been considered.
“It’s not like this case hasn’t been looked into,” she said. “He’s been there to be bred since 1999.”
However, Chisnall questioned why the issue couldn’t be resolved and said the court needed to “do justice to the case, be seen to do justice to the case and fix it”.
Judge Kos said the case raised “a fascinating and difficult point”, and reserved the court’s decision.