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Scott Watson battle in media

By Steven | January 6, 2008

Keith Hunter thinks he’s not guilty, and has produced a documentary and book about it.

North & South and the Herald on Sunday are weighing in on Watson’s side.

Meanwhile, the Listener is weighing in for the prosecution, with a cover story featuring interviews with prosecutor Paul Davison QC and Deputy Police Commissioner Rob Pope.

Despite the spate of recent media coverage, alas, we’re not left much better informed about whether or not Watson did it.

I reviewed Hunter’s book for the law society mag LawTalk last year. I said I thought his book raised serious questions about Watson’s guilt, and about the operation of the justice system. (Incidentally, today’s Herald on Sunday story, with its front page tag “SOUNDS MURDERS: THE NEW EVIDENCE”, in fact contains no new evidence at all. It merely repeats the old evidence in Hunter’s book. The only thing that’s new is that Watson says he’d be prepared to give evidence if he was given another trial. Well, bully for him. In fact, he had the right to give evidence at his first trial, and chose not to, no doubt on the advice of his legal team, who are terrific lawyers. It’s not especially surprising that his conviction may have prompted second thoughts about that call. But those second thoughts are hardly compelling all by themselves. The question to ask, which it seems the HOS didn’t, is: what evidence would he give? The HOS might also have pressed him (or at least his lawyers) on what he did with the clothes he was wearing on that fateful night – something that is not adequately dealt with in Hunter’s book, I think. If Watson were to give evidence, he would face some very uncomfortable cross-examination. But at least the HOS’s journalists are thoughtfully sparing him that for now.)

The Listener article errs – and more seriously – in the other direction. The story was a great opportunity for the Crown to provide its response to Hunter’s apparently meticulous criticisms and restore the public’s faith in the justice system. What did Hunter get wrong? What compelling evidence of Watson’s guilt did he slide over? Why are his arguments unconvincing?

In particular: why are three key witnesses now mistaken about who it was who got on the boat with Ben and Olivia, and what sort of boat it was? Aren’t the identifications of almost all the other witnesses, who almost uniformly described the mystery man’s hair as medium-length, unkempt and wavy, rather dodgy? Hasn’t Hunter proved it’s impossible for the Blade to have made it out to Cook Strait and back in the time they suggested? And that Watson couldn’t have made it back ashore at the time the Crown said he did? What about all the sightings of the boat they insist doesn’t exist?

I hope there are good answers to the questions. The Listener did raise some of these questions, but made little effort to press Davison and Pope about Hunter’s criticisms. Certainly, there’s a place for the Crown’s elimination-of-all-other-possibilities reasoning, though we’ve already heard it. And it’s useful to be reminded of some of significant evidence against Watson, including his professed plans to kill a woman.

But what’s their answer to Hunter’s specific criticisms? Can they answer them?

Instead, the story is basically a platform for Davison and Pope to trash their detractors, and repeat what little they’ve already said about the prosecution. The jury heard all the evidence, and that’s what counts. The Court of Appeal rejected the appeal. Criticism is uninformed and “unsophisticated”. Hunter and the rest of the media haven’t gone into the trouble of getting into the detail of the case. (This is extremely insulting to Hunter. Read his book, and you’ll see he has gone into exhaustive detail about the case).

I still have strong doubts about the conviction. But maybe that’s because I’m being “sensationalist” and “superficial in the extreme.”

Topics: Media ethics | 43 Comments »

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