Operation Tam Investigation- The Most Expensive Stuff Up in New Zealand Criminal History >

Overview of the Police Investigation

into the Hope/Smart Disappearance

"I had come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data."

Sherlock Holmes

Taken as a whole, there is little in the thousands of documents that make up this case to implicate Scott Watson and much that excludes him. There is a picture that builds up of a police force that is out of its depth as it tries to fathom the boating community. That people on boats would have no time constraints or for that matter did not necessarily even travel in straight lines was a totally foreign idea to these policemen. A basic tenet of their thinking appeared to be that all boat movement stops when the sun sets when in fact it is often easier to navigate at night than in the daylight hours.

Added to this was intense media pressure to perform and later intense political pressure also. These pressures made it imperative that the desk was cleared and brought about a number of dodgey practices both in the way of investigation and later in the prosecution of the case.

The intense media interest, although publicly deplored by the police, was actively used and encouraged by the use of "leaks" and the failure to either confirm or deny facts that were plainly obvious. An example of this was Mr. Pope’s refusal to confirm or deny whether there was an anchor aboard Blade, when the boat’s anchor was plainly shown on deck in news photos published when the boat was first taken. Little about the case did not become public knowledge and this could only have come about with the unofficial cooperation of the police.

Another aspect of the publicity generated by the police was the bringing out of various nutters with tales to tell or scores to settle. An example of this was Ian Michele the caretaker of the Waikawa Yacht club who stated that it looked as if bodies had wiped slime off the bottom of Blade when it was removed from the water. Most Yachtsmen will have started to scrub the bottom of their boats at some stage and found it not worth the trouble. People such as these abound within the case.

The case started on a strange note when by January 3rd the police had printed and distributed flyers about the missing pair. I cannot conceive that it is normal practice to do this when a seventeen year old and a twenty one year old go off together after a party.

The tactic of going back to witnesses again and again, and giving them information which they then give back is also evident in the investigation. It is interesting that visits to check on the well being of these witnesses cease as soon as they manage to make statements that the police want to hear and that furthers the case against Scott Watson. It should be noticed that even the earliest descriptions of the Mystery Man are tainted, with the witness Wallace being shown photographs of Scott Watson just prior to his construction of an identikit picture.

That Scott Watson was the focus of the investigation is obvious from at least 11/ 1/ 98. The emphasis on him during Wallace’s interview on that day bears this out, as does the taking of Blade on the 12th. It should be noted that no other boat was seized and searched in this way although warrants were issued for at least one other boat. The police have stated that there were other suspects but nearly all of them were people that were reported as being similar to the identikit pictures or as being suspicious. These were eliminated in a quite cursory fashion, one police officer writing in a job sheet that she had a list of thirty to eliminate. It should also be noted that two of these eliminated suspects have since been arrested for serious crimes, one for attempting to import some two hundred million dollars worth of cocaine into Australia and another for the murder of a Nelson man.

The officer in charge of searching Blade is a classic example of the tunnel vision that was operating at this time. Rather than looking at the job he was given with an open mind, he seems to be actively looking for evidence against Scott Watson, rather than just looking for evidence or the lack of same. He draws conclusions where none are warranted and floats theories that are not supported by his own investigators. One would think that if one were investigating a crime scene of the size of Blade a major item to be searched for would be body fluids. After all, the cabin abounds with sharp corners and porous surfaces. In this case hair seems to be of initial importance, the blanket YA69 being sent to the ESR to be tested for blood and hair, it only being at a later date after it had been returned to the police that it was returned to the ESR for testing for saliva.

It also seems to be disregarded by the police that this alleged double murder is completely bloodless. Luminol, which was used on Blade both inside and out, although the outside was not tested immediately but two months after the interior was done, will show up bloodstains on almost any surface even though they may have been thoroughly cleaned. Bloodstains found on Blade proved to be from Scott Watson and the date of the injury that he sustained was verified by the police as being on the 2nd of January. When the rather late luminol testing of the exterior of the boat was carried out it was found that there were indications on three places on the deck one of these being a narrow strip at the stem of the vessel. That luminol reacts with the iron content of blood should be remembered. When one does this and thinks of the mooring chain and anchor chain that lies in this area it is apparent that this reaction at least is from these items.

Blade was a veritable arsenal of potential murder weapons as it was Scott Watson’s home and contained all his personal possessions including tools and domestic cutlery. These were also available as defensive weapons to the alleged victims. For all of that, none of these tools were sent to the ESR for testing. If one were of a cynical disposition one would think that hair is what we were after and hair is what we got, but not during any initial search. This is probably the best place to point out the coincidence of the timing of this search.


A search warrant is obtained for Blade.


A hair sample is obtained from Olivia Hope’s Bedroom. The policeman who obtained this sample could not say the number of hairs obtained. "More than five and less than fifty" being all he could say.


Blade seized.

There were a small group of detectives that, it appears, drove the case. These names appear again and again wherever something shady or just not quite right seems to happen. One of these, Tom Fitzgerald appears to be a sort of fix-it man. It is he that works on Wallace. He also provides secret witnesses, and any other witness that appears to get out of line receives a visit from him. His is the tape recorder that malfunctions on the day of Scott’s arrest allowing the verbaling of the event. It should also be noted that he is reputed to have arranged the payment of $25,000 to a witness in a Christchurch case. He is also under investigation at the moment by the PCA for the coercion of the testimony of secret witness A in this case. Secret witness B is another who deserves investigation. As Bruce Davidson has said publicly. The payment that this witness received comes close to a perversion of justice. We are at an impasse at the moment, being aware that B was also a secret witness in the O’Brien case (Blenheim Securitas robbery) but cannot find any official way to prove this, and of course if it is not documented it does not exist.

Searches for the missing pair were many and have never located any sign at all of them or their belongings. It should be borne in mind that from the 12th of January 1998 these searches have been carried out as a means of building a case against Scott Watson and have been centered on places that he has been seen or could have been. Even the earlier searches are tainted in this way. When one looks at the map of the underwater search of the Furneaux Lodge mooring area and finds that only a narrow band from Tamarack to the mooring that blade was on was in fact searched when the impression given at the time was of a search of the whole area. Other particularly expensive searches were based on very tenuous information regarding sightings of Blade and the identifications of the boat left much to be desired, the method being to show two photos of the boat. Is this the boat you saw?

There were a number of incidents early in 1998 that deserved investigation and they were, in fact, investigated but once again only insofar as they could be connected to Scott Watson. There was the Mad Dog mayday call that was verified to have occurred by a number of people who actually heard it or were told of it shortly afterwards. This call was on the citizens band (CB). Many vessels do carry CB radios but not Blade. When it was found that Scott Watson’s radio could not transmit on these frequencies the inquiry was dropped although no conclusion was reached.

There was the EPIRB that was activated on January 3rd 1998. This was recorded by both plane and satellite receivers and a position was obtained of the general area where it originated from. After About one hour and twenty minutes the signal terminated. [Refer Doc 30816] It is a fact that boats sink and this can happen very quickly. No sign was ever found of the source of this transmission and little or no effort was made by operation tam to follow it up other than to explain it away as a false alarm. Some sea stories are called for here.


The American yacht that was run down in the Bay of Islands area during the late eighties or early nineties. Had not one woman survived, this yacht would never have been reported missing, nor would any evidence of what had occurred been found. No rescue was involved in this case, the woman finding her own way ashore.


A story that was related by the owner of a large steel fishing boat. This occurred in the last month (March 2001). This vessel was fishing and the crew had retired for the night leaving the vessel to drift. This is common practice on fishing vessels they being lit as not under command. Another large vessel under auto pilot collided with it, there obviously being no one keeping a lookout. The owner of the first vessel declares that if his boat had been wooden it would have been sunk, as it was considerable damage was done.


A large fishing boat was coming into Picton to unload. The watch keeper altered the auto pilot at Mable Island for the final (1 mile) leg into Picton and fell asleep. The boat collided with Waitohi Wharf and sustained considerable damage.

It is quite possible for a ship to collide with a small vessel and be unaware that a collision has occurred. To my knowledge no inquiries were carried out to determine if there was in fact any shipping in the area at that time.

On January 13th 1998 the police were notified by SAR that a life ring was seen floating in Cook Strait between the Brothers and Karori Rock. To my knowledge this man was not interviewed nor were his crew. It is entirely possible that there may have been a name on this life ring and that the crew of this vessel could have noted it.

By the 13th of January 1998 the police had in their possession the Radford photograph. This showed Scott Watson socialising with the charter party aboard Mina Cornelia at about 9.30 p.m.. They continued to attempt to portray Scott Watson as "scruffy". That Most if not all witnesses described the mystery man as having up to a week's facial growth was hardly a bother to the police. They continued on their way and obtained a number of statements saying that Scott Watson had "stubble" It is of interest that of the family photos seized by the police none shows Scott unshaven. It would seem logical, if the police wanted to ‘eliminate’ Scott Watson that the Radford Photograph would be shown to witnesses describing the mystery man at the earliest opportunity. It wasn’t. Instead it was completely disregarded as an identification tool. It wasn’t until the depositions hearing that this photo was shown to Wallace where he said that if the photo was taken at the time given then Scott Watson could not be the mystery man.

 "Radford photo" taken at around 9.30pm 31/12/97 onboard the Mina Cornelia. Note Scott Watson's total absence of facial hair and very short haircut.

That very nearly the same thing has happened with another police identification witness is of interest. Roz Mcneilly saw this photo in a book published after the trial and has since made a sworn statement that Scott Watson was not the man that she served in the Furneaux bar.

 "Mystery Man" identikit produced by the Police and based on the descriptions give by Furneaux Lodge bar staff.

The prosecution of Scott Watson was pursued in spite of a considerable body of evidence that excluded him. The Radford photo mentioned above. Evidence that he was returned to his boat alone possibly as late as 4.00 am. The pre planned painting of his boat. And the lack of any evidence obtained from a prolonged period of electronic surveillance. That there were discrepancies in his statements does not make them lies and there were many statements taken early in the investigation that bore little resemblance to their later versions. These people, of course, were not lying but were honestly mistaken. Scott Watson was not given the benefit of that doubt.

It was fact that both Ted and Eyvonne Walsh sighted a ketch, that they identified as being moored at Furneaux Lodge late on New Year's eve, on the 2nd of January. A number of people verified this sighting. The police never identified this boat but instead launched a media campaign to discredit these people. Another (or the same) vessel was seen by a number of people leaving Queen Charlotte Sound on the morning of the 1st of January. These sightings were also not confirmed by the police. To say loudly that all vessels have been identified does not make it so when there are still examples such as these uninvestigated and unexplained. It is also fact that the description of this vessel by Wallace and to an extent Morresey is probably the one thing that has not been changed during this investigation. These people were there at the time. No policeman was.

Witness identification procedures that have been used by the police also leave much to be desired. An identification montage (montage A) was produced by the police on the 11th of January 1998. This was a logical step. To then, some days later, change the photograph of Scott Watson that was used in it, to one of an arguably poorer quality for identification purposes, is slightly strange. To not show this to the main witnesses who could possibly make an identification as soon as possible is even more strange. It begins to become incredible that it is not until a further identification montage is constructed in mid March that crucial witnesses are asked to view it and make formal identifications and that Wallace, probably the most important, is not shown it until late April. It is important to note that what the police have taken as identifications really equate to the witnesses (Wallace and McNeilly) using the montage to describe the person that they are trying to identify rather than saying "yes that's the man" as did other people who had actually had contact with Watson during the evening. It would be helpful here to study some of the reports and papers of Gary Wells on the psychology of eye witness identification and procedures. New Zealand Police methods do not rate well when compared to those espoused by Wells and, in fact, the U S federal government. These are available on the www.freescottwatson.com web site. Also a Law Commission report regarding the rules of evidence which is based on Wells’ research. This is obtainable from the Law Commission web site.

It should be remembered that statements taken from witnesses are normally written by police. This is fine if the policeman involved is impartial but when he (or she) is actively involved in the putting together of a theory it falls down. Information is filtered out that would damage the theory and extra detail added if it might aid the theory. People seldom read what they sign and often they only have it read to them. Sandy Watson’s statement taken on the 12th of January 1998 is a case in point. She rather jokingly said once, when asked what the name of Scott’s boat was, that "she did not know if it had a name but she called it ‘Mad Dog’". It should be remembered that the mad dog mayday inquiry was active at this time. Her statement was written to refer to "Mad Dog" some 13 times, some of these to the detriment of good English. This name is inserted where one would normally say ‘the boat’. That this was in the hand written version that she signed does not alter the fact that there was really no reason to emphasise this name except that the policeman involved was privy to information that made it important to the police at the time. It should also be remembered that this statement was the product of some seven hours interrogation.

And then of course there is the one liner that appears in a number of statements. These are generally statements that would provide some sort of character reference. There will be a line that says "Oh yes, I think he did it" or similar included, and many of these strike a jarring note in the context of the rest of the statement. This of course will scare off any defense lawyer.

In a case that is built out of smoke and mirrors the police have provided a surprising amount of detail in their theory. It all sounds properly sinister until one starts to pick it apart. According to the police the bodies were wrapped in a sail and weighted down with, at various times, an anchor, an anchor winch, or chain. When one looks at the logistics of wrapping up two bodies aboard a small boat it starts to become ridiculous. The theory is explicit that the deed was done inside the boat. To man handle a body out to the deck area would be very difficult. Put two of them in a package and it would be impossible for one person to do. Add to this the fact that there was nothing of sufficient weight missing from the boat to hold these imaginary bodies down and it becomes even more so. The theory that was put forward to account for the fact that the missing pair were not seen aboard blade is that the above parcel was towed under water from the Marine Head area. Any boatie who has had a towed dinghy swamp on him will give the lie to this. There is also the gassing effect of bodies which usually brings them to the surface within forty eight hours. Wrapped in a sail it would require an immense weight to keep this package down as sails will not let gas through them. There are cases of weighted bodies coming to the surface with up to two hundred pounds attached and others of sealed caskets that have been buried exploding with enough force to move the earth above them.

If we withdraw the towing theory, Blade could well have had time to get to Cook Strait as is theorised but it could not have traveled back in the allotted time, even after this time had been stretched to its limit by a back room deal with a witness or two.

Add to this the theory that a completely drunken man commits the perfect crime, cleans the scene of all but two hairs, disposes of the bodies and then rounds it all off some thirty eight hours later by watching a movie on television with his friend and his children. As some people have commented "The man must be a Machine". The story comes close to farce.

The ESR deserves mention as although we have been conditioned to think of DNA as the be all and end all of forensic science a close look at it raises some doubt. Firstly there is the unexplained contamination that took place allowing a Christchurch man to be involved in two North Island murders. This contamination happened at about the time that the hair testing was in progress and remains unexplained to this day. The findings of a report into this were downplayed but it is with interest that I note that funding has been made available to the police and ESR to rectify these problems, one of which is that the housing of elimination samples and scene samples even in the same building is contrary to good scientific practice. This is exactly what happened in this case where both elimination samples of Hopes hair and the hair collection from the blanket YA69 were handled on the same day, at the same work bench, by the same scientist. The cut in the bag containing the Hope sample was never explained, nor has the fact that the YA69 hairs had been previously screened and no suitable blonde hairs found.

It also appears rather amazing that it was not documented just how many elimination sample hairs were submitted to the ESR, nor were the hairs from the blanket catalogued. Or, for that matter, counted until June of 1999. It is interesting that some 16 animal hairs were among those found. As there is no evidence that any animal had been aboard the boat at any time. These 16 animal hairs must have arrived by secondary transference. The impression that one is left with after looking into the collection and analysis of the so called forensic evidence is one of a fragmented and lackadaisical examination both during the search of the boat and later in the laboratory. It should also be noted that there were many, many articles sent to the ESR for testing that were never mentioned at all at the trial, none of them producing a result.

Consider that no actual crime was ever witnessed by any person. What reason has anyone to remember what his or her actions or movements were on the night? Not one person has seen a shooting, fight, argument, or in fact anything out of the ordinary at the time. None of the people who have said that they saw a boat acting suspiciously on new year's day reported this at the time. The supposed suspiciousness only became so well after the fact. In some cases only after two or three police interviews or sustained media coverage of the vessel.

It should also be kept in mind that the key witnesses in this case were under a great deal of pressure from the police to produce statements consistent with the police theory. Guy Wallace, the last person to see the missing pair is accused by the police of involvement and knows that he is next on the list if Scott Watson is eliminated. The Erie Bay caretaker (name suppressed) is charged with growing cannabis for supply (6 year sentence). He receives a suspended sentence after changing the time of Scott Watson’s arrival at Erie Bay to 5:00 p.m.. There are the caretakers children, whose father will go to prison unless their statements change just a little bit. That they do, three days before the caretaker is due to appear in court is just another coincidence, of course. Amelia Hope, the girl who lost her sister, first describes the mystery man as having a receding hair line in mid February some six weeks after the event but only seven days after Scott Watson is shown on television, or for that matter only five days after her father demonstrates that he is in possession of a police suspect profile of Scott Watson. It is a fact that people’s memories do not improve over time, and they can be altered by information that is supplied to them over a period. It is also a fact that none of the statements of the above began to implicate Scott Watson for some weeks or months into the inquiry. Recollections had changed.

For a moment put yourself in the shoes of a wrongly accused person. You have had no involvement in the crime that you are accused of. At the time of the alleged crime you were at home in bed, alone. Later you get up and go about your everyday activities. Have you kept any record of just what these activities were? Add to this that when you went to bed you had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol. Two weeks later you must account for your activities and movements. You do this to the best of your ability and you have got a general idea of what you did and where you went. Remember that this is just another day there had been no reason to take particular note of any occurrence. What are the chances of you getting it right, Exact times, places etc. But you must get it right any discrepancy is a lie. This of course does not apply to any one else but you. You LIE. Others are honestly mistaken. These lies are proof of your guilt.

You are exiled from your home; in fact it is taken away. You cannot remain in your home town as there are witnesses (or potential witnesses) there. Should you have contact with these witnesses it will be said that you are arranging an alibi or harassing them. Both having contact with these witnesses and leaving town are proof of your guilt.

You are arrested and remanded to prison. There are criminals in prison and you must associate with them. When you get to court a couple of these criminals will be produced, not so much for what they have to say, but to exhibit the types that you associate with. This is proof of your guilt.

You have spoken with your girlfriend and you have denied involvement in the alleged crime. For some reason this also is proof of your guilt.

In court you have the opportunity to go on the witness stand, but you have said everything that you have to say. You have not been believed. Why should it be any different here? You have nothing new to add, you have not arranged an alibi, you have not bought a witness or two, you have no plea of self defense or explanation to offer. You do not give evidence in court. To do so would only subject you to one and a half days vilification by a prosecution lawyer. To the naive people who have been conditioned by television and fiction, this is proof of your guilt.

You are convicted by a jury of your, supposed, peers who have been subjected to a three month conditioning process concerning the police theory of the disappearance but little actual fact. This is proof of your guilt.

What does it feel like to be the scapegoat that makes all of these people happy in their revenge and others feel safe that their justice system is always right. There are of course others who are not so sure.

Should this case have ever been prosecuted? What checks and balances came into play before it was? Some one must oversee an investigation such as this and there must also be someone to oversee the overseer. The very people who should have been acting in this capacity though, appear to be receiving pressure from above and applying it to those lower down the pecking order. The decision to arrest seems to have been prompted more by a desire to pre-empt a parliamentary select committee rather than any new or factual evidence. No one has asked "Are we on the right track?" There has been a sad lack of management responsibility and for that matter, common sense applied to this case. It being impossible for the police to be wrong they have continued down the original track, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. The result is comparable to the INCIS disaster, where bluff and positive thinking only worked for so long. Even then, it was not the police who came to their senses but IBM.

And who has come out of this with any credit? Inspector Pope? He has held onto his job and become something of a celebrity.(Since sacked by the Minister of Justice). The Hope and Smart Families? Can they really believe that they have received justice? Is the conviction of anyone at all good enough for them? The prosecution of Scott Watson did not shed any light at all on the mystery of their children’s disappearance. The New Zealand justice system? To hide behind pomp and ceremony and deny common sense only lowers its reputation another notch in the eyes of those who are aware of its shortcomings.

At least Scott Watson has maintained his dignity. His two quiet words to the court on his wrongful conviction said it all:

"You’re Wrong"

Chronology of Events

Evidence Lines