Scott Watson, the man convicted of murdering friends Olivia Hope and Ben Smart after a New Year’s Eve party in the Marlborough Sounds, fears he will be stuck in prison forever.
On Tuesday, the now 50-year-old Watson was denied parole for the fourth time after the parole board said he remained an undue risk to the public.
Watson, who has served more than 23 years behind bars, has always maintained his innocence. This prevented the “core risk” at the heart of his offending from being addressed, said board chairperson Sir Ron Young.
“You’ve killed two people in callous circumstances… and that’s never been explored,” he said.
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Watson, wearing a prison-issued sweatshirt and mask, was notably nervous at the hearing on Tuesday. He had two supporters with him in the room, and another appearing remotely.
In his submissions, Watson’s lawyer Kerry Cook pointed to a sound release plan with many “protective elements”, including his client having the “spotlight on him” due to the high-profile nature of the case.
Describing Watson’s family as being “pro-social”, Cook said they and Watson’s partner would play a central role in supporting him upon his release from prison.
Watson was described as mature and the “go-to person” in the prison workshop where he had shown a good work ethic, said Cook.
Watson said outside prison he would behave in the same way he had done inside it.
“I eat, sleep, work and repeat.”
Reading a submission he had prepared, Watson said he no longer posed an undue risk to the public. He listed skills he had learned while behind bars, including painting, gib-stopping, carpentry and gaining a forklift licence.
One of his supporters who spoke to the board was a man who said he had a job for Watson upon his release.
Cook pointed to comments made by Justice Stephen Kós during Watson’s application for bail, where he described his risk of re-offending as “moderate”.
Board member Alan Hackney was concerned at Watson’s high score in his psychopathy report.
Asked what he made of that, Watson replied that he thought he had done well in it and that he presented as being “normal”.
When asked how he had coped in prison for as long as he had given his belief that he was innocent, Watson said he experienced a range of emotions “waking up next to a brick wall every day”, but that he tried to stay positive.
He said an important element in helping him cope was “belief in myself” and a belief in the justice system.
“I’ve got to believe in the justice system – it’s all you’ve got,” he said.
However, in relation to the psychologist’s report he said he feared he would be “stuck here forever”.
Young said Watson’s risk remained high as long as the issue at the core of his violent offending remained unaddressed.
He noted that Watson’s family were also of the belief he had not committed any crime, and this reduced the benefit of the support they would offer him on the outside.
Watson replied that he wanted to look forward to the future and live his life with his partner and his family. “I want to move on with my life.”
Watson won’t be able to put his case for release again for another two years, with his next appearance scheduled for October 2023.
Hope, 17, and Smart, 21, disappeared after attending a party at Furneaux Lodge in the Marlborough Sounds on New Year’s Day, 1998. Their bodies have never been found.
Watson had been at the lodge after sailing there on his yacht, Blade.
Two hairs, later said to be from Hope, were found on a blanket when his yacht was seized by police.
Watson was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years. He has always maintained his innocence.
Last year, retired High Court Judge Sir Graham Panckhurst recommended Watson’s case be reconsidered by the Court of Appeal, which the justice minister and governor-general agreed to.
Watson asked the Court of Appeal for bail, so he could help his lawyers prepare his case for the court, but the application was refused in October.
The families of Hope and Smart strongly opposed his release on bail unless his conviction was overturned.
Delays with reviews of the complex forensic evidence have pushed Watson’s appeal out to next year, possibly in June or July.