Scott Watson killed Hope, Smart – Ian Wishart

Ben Smart and Olivia Hope (File)
Ben Smart and Olivia Hope (File)

An investigative journalist who has long campaigned for convicted killer Scott Watson's freedom has now retracted his support, claiming previously unseen evidence backs up Watson's conviction.

Author and journalist Ian Wishart says while writing his latest book, Elementary: The Explosive File On Scott Watson And The Disappearance Of Ben & Olivia, he gathered fresh evidence as well as being granted access to police files previously unavailable to him.

Olivia Hope, 17, and Ben Smart, 21, disappeared after a New Year's party in 1998. They were last seen boarding double-masted ketch after the party at Furneaux Lodge in Marlborough Sounds -- a party Watson also attended.

Watson was arrested and convicted of the double-murder in 1999. The mystery ketch was never found.

In an interview with North & South journalist Mike White last year, Watson said he had returned from the New Year's party alone on his single-mast boat called the Blade, before sailing alone to a friend's place and painting the boat.

Wishart told RadioLIVE this morning that's not true, and says evidence from three witnesses "utterly crushes" the alibi.

"Yeah, it is actually based on the best attested sighting of Watson and his boat on New Year's Day, which happened at 10am off Snake Point in the Marlborough Sounds. He was seen by three independent witnesses on three different boats."

One eight-year-old witness, who Wishart describes as a "yachting nut", provided a detailed description of Watson's boat Blade and said he saw two people on the boat.

Two other vessels confirmed the boy's report, Wishart says, meaning Watson wasn't alone as he had claimed in his North & South interview.

Not only was Watson not alone, but it's suggested the boat was being painted at sea by the man and his accomplice.

A witness is quoted in the book as having seen a man holding onto the side stays of the boat, holding a paintbrush.

"It was then that I noticed the two colours," Wayne Robertson is quoted as saying. "The colour he was painting was a bluey-grey colour similar to the one in the paper [...] It looked as though the port side was nearly completed and the starboard side hadn't been done at all."

Wishart alleges the three sightings destroy Watson's alibi and are proof the man lied in his North & South interview.

"The evidence sadly shows that Scott Watson has lied, not just to police and Mike White, but to all the thousands of New Zealanders who believed he was innocent of the murders, people who have campaigned for his exoneration," Wishart says. "Like me, those people will be in shock this morning as they begin to absorb the enormity of what's contained in the new book.

"I'm now in a position to say categorically that virtually everything Watson told North & South was a fabrication."

In contrast, a report by the Maritime Research Group leaked yesterday raised questions about Watson's innocence.

The report placed heavy emphasis on the double-mast ketch and suggested a drug syndicate was on board the mystery boat, which police never found. It suggests Watson is in fact innocent and Ms Hope and Mr Smart's death was instead the responsibility of the drug syndicate.

A contributor to that leaked report and member of the Maritime Research Group, Keith Hunter, also spoke to RadioLIVE this morning and says despite not having read Wishart's book yet, it sounds like "hocus."

"It sounds to me like a way to make money and not a book about a murderer at all. I should withhold until I can see what he has got, but it sounds like a lot of hocus to me.

"I don't know what his evidence is. I'm not aware of it and if it is in fact in the material then I'll be very, very surprised. But in the meantime, I am very familiar with the police file, I am very familiar with the court file, and I am not aware of anything that he is talking about," he says.

Mr Hunter also refuted claims from Wishart that he'd withheld information in Murder on the Blade? and said he would consider taking action if he could.

"That is a lie. There is nothing in the file that I am aware of that supports what he is saying, and if he is saying that I withheld stuff then that is a pretty serious accusation and I might have to do something about it."

Meanwhile, Ms Hope's father, Gerald, wasn't convinced by the yesterday's report and instead said he places more emphasis on Elementary, which is to be released today.

Mr Hope has read part of the book and says it will allow people to reach their own conclusions about what happened.

"If you want to know what happened to Ben and Olivia then that has not been answered. So the question still has to be asked by me, to Watson."

He hoped the book's release would get people thinking about the case again.

"There may well be people out there who have information after 19 years to say 'I want to get this off my chest; I want to purge myself of it and I want to the truth to be known about what happened to Ben and Olivia'."

Mr Wishart agrees with Mr Hope's sentiment, and says someone out there holds the key to New Zealand's most controversial murder.

Mr Wishart had previously co-authored Ben And Olivia: What Really Happened? with Jayson Rhodes, a detailed account about Ms Hope and Mr Smart's murders published shortly after the trial. In it, the authors questioned whether guilt was proven "beyond all reasonable doubt".

Elementary, with its "devastating full story", goes on sale today.

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