Marlborough Sounds convicted murderer Scott Watson's bail declined

Scott Watson at the High Court in Christchurch in 2015. Photo: Supplied
Scott Watson at the High Court in Christchurch in 2015. Photo: Supplied
Convicted double-killer Scott Watson was denied bail on Monday.

Watson, 50, had applied to be released from prison on bail to prepare for his last chance to overturn convictions for the 1998 murders of Olivia Hope, 17, and Ben Smart, 21.

He has spent more than 23 years behind bars after being sentenced to life in prison with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

His latest bail application, which was opposed by the Crown, was heard at the Court of Appeal in Wellington on Friday.

Justice Stephen Kós, President of the Court of Appeal, released his decision on Monday.

At the bail hearing, Watson's lawyer Nick Chisnall argued it was in the interests of justice that bail be granted, saying it was a unique case given Watson's steadfast assertion of innocence and the reference of a further appeal to the Court of Appeal in the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy.

The evidence of two hairs found on a blanket in Watson's boat, and said to match that of Hope, was one of two central planks in the Crown case at trial.

Chisnall said the Court of Appeal now has two scientific reports completed by a forensic scientist, which have been peer-reviewed, and point to a lack of due procedures to prevent sample contamination, and that the evidence overstated the strength of the match.

Missing couple Ben Smart and Olivia Hope. Photo: Supplied
Missing couple Ben Smart and Olivia Hope. Photo: Supplied
The lawyer says that if that evidence was inadmissible, and should have been excluded, it is likely a miscarriage of justice occurred "inasmuch as the jury would have been substantially influenced by it", says the Court of Appeal decision rejecting Watson's bail.

Chisnall also raised issues around the evidence of the boatman, the late Guy Wallace, and the photomontage used to identify Watson, which the Crown objected to.

Justice Kós' ruling declining bail says while the scientific reports "may raise doubts about the reliability of an important aspect of the prosecution case", a bail hearing is "not an appropriate time at which to prejudge the merits of an appeal".

The Crown was also willing to allow Watson use of a computer, with access to all documentation, while in custody, along with a meeting space or video links with his lawyer within operational hours of 7am to 7pm "including if necessary for full days".

"These are commendable, and relatively unusual, proposals," Justice Kós said, while also raising the possibility that Watson would meet with counsel for extended periods while on temporary release – something he is yet to apply for.

"Mr Watson has not discharged the onus of showing it would be in the interests of justice for him to be granted bail pending appeal," Justice Kós concluded.

"The application for bail pending appeal is declined."

The former Picton boatbuilder has always denied killing, or even ever meeting, Hope and Smart after New Year's celebrations in a Marlborough Sounds holiday hideaway.

The friends disappeared after boarding a stranger's yacht early on January 1, 1998, after marking the new year with friends at Furneaux Lodge, a century-old, boat access-only resort in Endeavour Inlet. Their bodies have never been found.

The police investigation that led to Watson's arrest has been criticised in numerous newspaper articles, documentaries and books, particularly Trial by Trickery by Auckland journalist Keith Hunter, a stinging attack on those who put Watson away.

Watson and his supporters - the case has long divided public opinion – were given fresh hope in June last year after Justice Minister Andrew Little announced that Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy had referred his case back to the Court of Appeal for a new hearing.

It came after an investigation by former High Court judge Sir Graham Panckhurst QC raised concerns about forensic evidence used to convict Watson.

"The primary basis of his application was that the DNA evidence linking two hairs removed from a blanket seized from Mr Watson's boat with Ms Hope was unreliable," the Ministry of Justice said.

The latest Court of Appeal hearing is scheduled for June next year.

An earlier appeal to the Court of Appeal in 2000 was unsuccessful, as was his subsequent application for leave to appeal to the Privy Council.

Watson then applied for a royal prerogative of mercy in November 2008.

That was assessed by Kristy McDonald QC and also ultimately declined by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae in July 2013, on the advice of the then-Minister of Justice Judith Collins.

Watson applied again in 2017.

He is scheduled to appear before the Parole Board again next month.

His third bid for parole was declined last year, with panel convenor Sir Ron Young telling Watson he needed to address risks raised in psychiatric reports through psychological treatment programmes before parole could be granted.

But Watson said although he was "willing to do the treatment", he said that the programmes "demand I confess and explain a crime I didn't commit".

 

 

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