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Father speaks to man convicted of murdering his daughter

THE details of the first conversation between the father of a teenager who hasn't been seen since 1998 and the man convicted of her murder are revealed in a magazine article today.

Gerald Hope's daughter, Olivia Hope, was 17 when she and her friend Ben Smart, 21, disappeared on New Year's Day in 1998. They were last seen in the Marlborough Sounds boarding a yacht in with a man early that morning.

Their bodies were never found. Picton man Scott Watson was charged with and convicted of both their murders. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2007, Hope told the Herald he had growing doubts about whether Watson was guilty and would help fight to free the convicted killer if he was convinced of Watson's innocence.

"What we got was a conviction but we never got the truth. And that's the part that still really rips me up. Nothing ever was confirmed, it was all circumstantial, there was no hard evidence. And that's where my greatest doubts lie," Hope said at the time.

Hope came face to face with Watson at Christchurch's Rolleston Prison in November this year.

North & South journalist Mike White, who wrote the story and helped to organise the meeting, was there when the two men talked.

It took more than three years for the meeting to come together.

"I respect what you say, but there are questions I'll be asking today so I really, really need to know we're getting it from your heart and your head. And it's got to be absolutely honest," Hope told Watson, according to North & South.

"And you also need to be prepared to hear the truth and actually take it on board, because you've obviously been close to [investigation head] Rob Pope and his cronies," Watson replied.

"And at the time, you took on his line, and you were standing out there, almost the little media front with them, to create this whole thing."

In a video interview posted on Noted's Facebook page yesterday, White said: "We had hoped it would be a very simple process."

"Scott Watson wanted an independent person there. Both parties strongly supported having an independent person there, an observer who could record the meeting. They felt that it was the fairest way that they could go about this meeting."

Hope's desire to meet with Watson was about "an effort to more overturn every stone . . . to make sure you've done everything you can to get Olivia the voice she doesn't have and to try and find the truth about what happened to Olivia and Ben," White said.

The Corrections Department rejected Watson's applications three times, once in 2013 again in 2014 and then once more in March 2016, before the High Court ruled in August 2016 that the meeting between him and Hope would go ahead with White present as an independent observer.

Each was too guarded to shake the other's hand, White said.

"There was too much distrust, too many preconceptions."

But one thing they agreed on was that they were both victims.

"You and I are both victims. You believe you're a victim," Hope said.

"I know I'm a victim - I know I'm a victim," said Watson.

Hope added: "We're a victim. We never got the truth. We haven't got the truth yet".

NZH

"Most people have got the comfort of the police, the legal system having done their job, so that's why you're in here. That's the bottom line.

"Most people just get on with their lives, they don't want to have anything change what's already been decided. And I know that, I understand that."

White said Hope had "significant concerns" about how the police investigation and trial had been handled.

"[He] has many doubts about the case that convicted Scott Watson. He now rejects crucial evidence that underpinned Watson's conviction, and this will add to debate about whether Scott Watson is guilty of the murders, or whether he is the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice."

White has remained tightlipped on his own views about the case and whether Watson is innocent or guilty.

The men spoke for six hours over two days, according to North & South magazine.

White's 16-page story on the meeting between Hope and Watson is published in the magazine's January issue, released today.



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