Bid to meet victim's dad, writer

SONIA BEAL AND FAIRFAX NZ
Last updated 07:38 28/01/2014

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Former Marlborough mayor Gerald Hope and North & South journalist Mike White are the subject of legal proceedings being brought against the Department of Corrections by convicted murderer Scott Watson.

Watson is serving a life sentence after he was convicted of the murders of Olivia Hope and Ben Smart, who went missing in the Marlborough Sounds early on New Year's Day 1998.

Watson started legal action against Corrections after he put in a request for a prison visit with Mr Hope and Mr White on October 9, 2013.

Mr Hope previously said he would like to meet Watson face-to-face to ask him the ultimate question: "Did you do it, Scott?"

Mr Hope did not want to comment to the Marlborough Express or any other media outlet when contacted yesterday. Corrections' regulations place restrictions on interviews and recordings with prisoners, which may not take place without the written approval of both the chief executive and the prisoner concerned.

Watson's lawyer, Kerry Cook, said he had been instructed to file the application to force the chief executive of Corrections to make a decision about whether or not to allow the meeting.

"Everyone wants this meeting to happen and the Department of Corrections has not responded to an application we made in early October." Corrections responded to Watson's request on October 23, saying it was awaiting a decision in an unrelated case that would examine its processes in regard to allowing media access to interview serving prisoners.

"Once the result of this is known we will have clarity around how we approve such visits, " the response said.

Through his lawyer, Watson indicated on October 30 that he saw no relevance between the decision in the unrelated case and his request.

Corrections responded the same day, reiterating its belief the determination in the other case might have a bearing on the consideration of media requests to interview prisoners.

Watson was told on November 27 that Corrections was unable to give him a date by which a decision would be made. "But I can assure you we are addressing the issue and there's no wish on our part to delay a decision."

The statement of claim filed in the High Court said there has been no contact from Corrections in relation to the meeting request since November 27.

It said Watson had been significantly prejudiced by the delay in that "the articles and interviews in relation to his case have not been promoted at all".

The legal proceedings seek an order from the court compelling Corrections to make a decision, and a declaration that the department acted unlawfully in failing to process Watson's request for the meeting in a timely manner.

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Watson has made a series of unsuccessful appeals against his convictions, including an application to the governor-general in November 2008 for an exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy.

A Ministry of Justice review led by Kristy McDonald, QC, found none of the evidence Watson put forward was fresh or credible enough for a pardon, and Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae rejected the application in July 2013.

Watson is eligible for parole in June 2015.

- The Marlborough Express

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