The Front Page: Why Paul Henry regrets not telling Scott Watson’s story earlier

Ben Smart and Olivia Hope disappeared 25 years ago. Scott Watson was convicted of their murders. He has maintained that he is innocent and has filed several unsuccessful appeals. Photos / NZME

Long-time broadcaster Paul Henry made headlines over the summer period for a surprising reason.

He took some time away from his boat and social engagements to pen a compelling essay for the New Zealand Heraldin which he outlined all the reasons he believed there had been a miscarriage of justice in the infamous Scott Watson case.

Henry was working at Radio New Zealand when the story first broke 25 years ago. Like the rest of the country, he was captivated by the disappearances of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 1998.

Watson quickly became the center of the investigative efforts – and would ultimately be convicted of their murders in 1999.

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Watson, who was later sentenced to life behind bars, has continued to state his innocence despite spending 20 years behind bars.

Despite being at the coalface of the unfolding story, covering each development as a newsreader, Henry never expressed any support for Watson.

Henry’s career would rise over the years, with the broadcaster holding many prestigious and influential roles in the media. But he did not offer much of a view on whether there had been a miscarriage of justice.

Asked during an interview with The Front Page podcast whether he regrets remaining silent on the issue for so long, Henry doesn’t hesitate.

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“Yes, I do,” he says.

Reflecting on the trial and the conviction of Watson, Henry expresses concern that anyone could have been caught up in this investigation.

“I suppose everyone was a potential killer,” he says.

“I was working in Wellington. Maybe I did it? [It would’ve been] more inconvenient for me than Scott because I was a bit further away. But I mean everyone was a potential killer given there was no motive and no bodies.”

Henry argues that there were gaping holes throughout the case and that the vacuum in evidence was being filled with wild speculation about Watson’s criminal history.

“There is zero hard evidence against him. In fact, was there even a crime? Here’s the total evidence that there was a crime: two people went missing and 25 years later, there’s still no sign of them… I’ve just given you, in those few [sentences] everything we know… All we know is that two people have gone missing and they’ve never been seen again.”

The broadcaster said that the media frenzy around the case would have reached everyone who played a role in the conviction and imprisonment of Watson all those years ago.

“Go back 25 years. It was a much smaller country than it is now and the media platforms were also much smaller and fewer than they are now,” says Henry.

“When he walked into that courtroom, there wasn’t one set of eyes on him that didn’t know he was guilty.

“The story had been told and litigated before he came close to the courtroom.”

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Despite the interest and the impact of the recent Herald article, Henry now has no intention of taking it any further. “I’ve done my bit,” he says. “I should have done something earlier. I occupied a huge number of platforms in this country, and could have done something about it then, but didn’t.”

After the publication of Henry’s story, Watson’s father Chris thanked the broadcaster for his efforts in a follow-up interview with the Herald. Henry hasn’t heard from the family, and he doesn’t want to either.

“They are fallout from my story,” he says.

“What my story was about was honesty, fairness and the justice system in this country. I don’t care about Scott Watson. I’ve got no reason to believe he’s a nice bloke or anything like that … None of that matters. What matters is that someone who hasn’t been proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt lost 25 years of his life. That matters because it happened in this country.”

Watson remains behind bars for now, but his supporters hope a return to the Court of Appeal in May this year could finally set him free.

Listen to the full episode of The Front Page podcast to hear Henry’s view on what this case means for New Zealand, why he believes there has been a miscarriage of justice, whether he believes the case will be turned over and why every New Zealander should be concerned about cases like these.

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• The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen every weekday from 5am. • You can follow the podcast at iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotifyor wherever you get your podcasts.

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