Trial by Trickery

The Research Process

The research was very straight-forward and essentially very simple. Very little of it involved seeking or turning up new information. Mostly it entailed reading, re-reading and analysing all the evidence, going over the material that had always been available to the trial process. This took several months. It involved not just the evidence given at trial but the judgments, the arguments and speeches of the opposing teams and the evidence supplied in statement after statement by witnesses to the police and later supplied to the defence team as parrt of the ‘discovery’ process. There are many thousands of these witness statements. Hunter has read or skimmed most of them.

Books on the case were vital too. Several have been written and they have varying stances – promoting guilt and the police point of view, promoting innocence and identifying many of the holes in the prosecution case, or taking neither point of view but instead simply asking the questions that are answered in Trial by Trickery. The publications supporting the police were the most valuable because they were genuine and legitimate windows into the police thinking and tactics throughout the whole enquiry

All of the essential witness agreed to be interviewed for the film. Extracts from the interviews that were not used in the film are included in the book. Eyewitnesses Guy Wallace and Hayden Morresey had both watched Ben, Olivia and the ‘mystery man’ climb aboard the ‘mystery yacht’ in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1998, never to be seen  again. Both agreed to interviews on the water – in a Naiad inflatable alongside Blade and also alongside a high-sided ketch like the one they recalled. They were the most important witnesses at the trial. Both were firm that Blade is the wrong boat - as they were firm at the trial.

Guy Wallace, the most important witness of all, revealed that he was taken in by the infamous ‘blink photo’ when he identified Watson as the mystery man. In the film he is categorical that Watson is innocent.

The next most important witnesses were barstaff Roz McNeilly and Chey Phipps. They too  were also tracked down and they too agreed to interviews – both being convinced that Watson is the wrong man. McNeilly revealed that she considers she was tricked into identifying Watson for the police. She had not seen the Mina Cornelia photograph of Watson before the trial, having been shown only the blink photo by the police. Later, seeing the truth about Watson‘s appearance on New Year’s Eve 1997 in the Mina Cornelia photo, she knew instantly she had testified wrongly. In the film she is adamant an innocent man is in prison.

What emerged from the research and analysis with great force – and quite quickly – was that many witnesses, who in court identified Watson in various different situations at the New Year party, directly contradicted what they had said in their statements to the police a year earlier. What also emerged early in the research was that, on the evidence, Watson should never have been charged, let alone convicted.

A phase of research that was pursued only lightly for the film, but was later a focus for the book, involved comparing what the police told the New Zealand public through the press about their inquiry on the one hand, with the facts they had at hand as revealed in the witness statements on the other. The disparity is astounding. During the police inquiry it gave rise to the most profound untrue defamation of a man imaginable – all but continuously for fully five months. Subsequently it deprived Scott Watson of any vestige of a fair trial. It is addressed in the book in the first and longest chapter in the book, in the context of a tactic subtitled ‘The Strategic Lie’..