One of New Zealand’s most high-profile and controversial murder cases is back before the courts this week, as Scott Watson challenges his convictions for the murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope in the Marlborough Sounds in 1998.

1News looks back at the events that have brought the case to this point.

January 1, 1998

Twenty-one-year-old Ben Smart and 17-year-old Olivia Hope are seen boarding a stranger’s boat in Endeavour Inlet in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

The pair had been celebrating at a party at a packed Furneaux Lodge. They were looking for somewhere to sleep after discovering their bunks on the Tamarack, a yacht chartered by Olivia and her sister, had been occupied by other people.

One of NZ’s most high-profile murder cases is back before the courts this week.

Ben and Olivia wound up in a water taxi driven by Guy Wallace. Wallace said a mystery man also aboard the water taxi offered Ben and Olivia a bed on his boat for the night. They accepted and Wallace dropped all three at the boat.

Ben and Olivia were never seen again.

Police later alleged the mystery man who offered them shelter was Picton resident Scott Watson. Police also alleged Watson killed Ben and Olivia on his boat, Blade, and dumped their bodies at sea. Ben and Olivia’s bodies have never been found.

June 1998

Watson is arrested for the murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope.

September 1999

Watson is found guilty and convicted of Ben and Olivia’s murders following a lengthy trial. Controversy has followed parts of the Crown’s case against Watson ever since.

Water taxi driver Guy Wallace said he dropped Ben and Oliva and the mystery man to a ketch, which is a two-masted boat. Watson’s boat, Blade, is a sloop – a yacht with a single mast.

Wallace also denied Watson was the mystery man, before identifying him from a montage of photos some months later. Following Watson’s trial in 1999, Wallace claimed he’d made a mistake under police pressure and Watson wasn’t the mystery man.

There has also been controversy over two blonde hairs believed to be Olivia’s that were found on a blanket taken from Watson’s boat, with Watson’s lawyers suggesting they may have wound up there through accidental contamination.

Scott Watson is taken to the Christchurch District Court in a police car before being charged with the murder of Ben Smart and Oliva Hope in 1998

November 1999

Watson is sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.


Watson’s Court of Appeal bid against his murder convictions is dismissed.


Watson’s application for special leave to appeal to the Privy Council is declined. (The Privy Council, which sits in London, used to be New Zealand’s highest court of appeal. The Supreme Court, which was established in 2004, is now New Zealand’s final court of appeal.)


Watson applies for a Royal prerogative of mercy. The following year, Kristy McDonald KC is appointed to reinterview key witnesses in Watson’s case as part of that application. Her report found most of the issues raised did not constitute “fresh evidence”.

Ben Smart and Olivia Hope went missing from Endeavour Inlet in the Marlborough Sounds in 1998


Watson’s application for a Royal prerogative of mercy is declined.


Watson is denied parole for the first time. He has been denied parole several more times since.


Watson files a second application for a Royal prerogative of mercy. Sir Graham Panckhurst KC is instructed to conduct a review of the application.


Following the Panckhurst report, Watson’s murder convictions are referred back to the Court of Appeal by then-Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.


Key witness Guy Wallace is found dead, aged 55.


Scott Watson has spent around half his life in prison for the murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope

The Court of Appeal grants Watson leave to appeal his convictions.

May 2024

Watson’s latest parole hearing is adjourned to give the Parole Board time to get more detail about his risk of reoffending. The Parole Board says psychological reports over four years varied between putting Watson at a very high risk of reoffending to a low risk of reoffending.

June 2024

Watson, now aged 52 and having spent around half his life in prison, puts his case before the Court of Appeal. His appeal has been set down for five days, starting June 10.

The Court will consider the reliability of the identification evidence, the forensic hair evidence, and whether there has been a miscarriage of justice.