Journalist verdict on Scott Watson

The case against Scott Watson has been getting plenty of attention again recently. One journalist who covered the entire case and trial is convinced the jury verdict was correct, and most other journalists who covered the trial agreed.

Andi Brotherston: The case against Scott Watson

I covered the story for TV3 from the very beginning to the very end and was one of the 13 journalists on the media bench who sat through the entire trial. Unlike the jury, we didn’t have to keep an open mind. In fact, at the beginning of the trial most of us thought the Crown was on a hiding to nothing and Watson would walk.

It took three months to present and test the evidence and at the conclusion, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict. While the jury deliberated, we conducted an anonymous poll of the media bench. Twelve of us believed Watson was guilty, one wasn’t convinced.

That doesn’t guarantee that Watson is guilty but it is a strong corroboration of the jury verdict.

Only the members of the jury will ever know what convinced them all of Watson’s guilt, but there were a couple of compelling things that must have influenced them.

What Watson didn’t do or didn’t say, rather than what he did, is likely to have played a part in their decision-making. Watson’s behaviour often seemed inconsistent with innocence.

When Watson was first interviewed by police he lied about what he was wearing on New Year’s Eve.

Being found to have lied doesn’t look good.

Later, photos emerged of him in totally different clothing than he’d described to police. He was pictured in a chambray shirt and denim jeans. Police asked him to bring those items into the station. He didn’t.

He told police he couldn’t find them because he’d moved around a lot and they could be at quite a few different places.

The context is this: If you were innocent and had nothing to hide, you’d find the clothes. If you were innocent, had become the prime suspect and were going down for a double murder, you’d go to the ends of the earth to find those clothes. The Crown alleged Watson didn’t want his clothes to be found and tested forensically.


The phone calls police intercepted and recorded between Watson and his former girlfriend was the evidence that appeared to slam the cell door shut.

It’s also evidence that only those in court have ever heard in full – it’s been forgotten, yet it’s the most compelling.

Police recorded 70-plus hours of Watson’s phone conversations and during that time they regularly fed Watson’s former girlfriend questions to ask.

Both the prosecution and defence had full access to the tapes and both sides could have used them to support their case. Only the prosecution did. The court listened to 40 minutes of edited conversations secretly recorded across several months.

My opinion was that Watson’s manner was odd. It was unnerving. The word that I keep coming back to is ‘smug’. The whole thing seemed like a game to him.

His responses to her questions were rehearsed or fudged. He toyed with her and obfuscated.

As the tape played, it became increasingly clear we were listening to a man completely devoid of compassion.

Watson may have sounded devoid of compassion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was guilty of the murders.

But what was really striking was his lack of denial. He never once said: “I didn’t do it.”

At the time, this was glaring and telling. It seemed profoundly important to me and I doubt it was lost on the jury.

My thoughts on this were reinforced recently when I read about the CIA’s ‘spy the lie’ programme. It’s an international best-practice tool, used by law enforcement agencies all over the world to identify lies/liars during interviews with crime suspects.

The CIA has identified ‘failure to deny’ as a key indicator of guilt.

Former CIA agent Susan Carnicero says: “The most important thing to an innocent person is to deny they did something; the truth is their biggest ally.”

So why don’t defence counsels advise their clients to deny guilt? Perhaps they do. But it would be risky if guilty, because the jury may perceive a lack of  credibility in the denial.

So, in summing up, no matter how the case continues to be selectively re-litigated, I believe Watson was found guilty for one very good reason – because he is guilty.

Brotherston’s account of the case adds weight to Watson being guilty, but I don’t know enough, and certainly didn’t see any of the trial, so can’t judge the verdict for myself.

Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  4th January 2018

    The big problem with convicting based on demeanour or behaviour is that slightly weird innocent people get targeted by police and wrongly convicted. As per Arthur Allan Thomas, Teina Pora and Peter Ellis to name but three.

    Convictions should be based on hard evidence, not subjective impressions.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  4th January 2018

      Scott Watson seems to be a very unlovely person, but that doesn’t mean that he’s a murderer. I am glad that I wasn’t on the jury. He seems to have done himself very few favours.

    • Reinvented

       /  4th January 2018

      Your three cases are valid but they were always very shakey (although Pora did confess but probably because he’s not the full quid so was arguably not competent to plead as he did) which is why the miscarriage of justice is so alarming in these cases – the police were pushing for an outcome to the extent of planting evidence in the Thomas case or treating fringe lunatics as experts in the case of Ellis. David Bain was another case of a botched investigation although I’m not sure there was malice on the part of the police.

      Watson is, in my view, guilty because the hard evidence, much of which hasn’t really been debated in the public arena even now, is good although I happily confess I sat on the fence for years.

      • Corky

         /  5th January 2018

        I agree. But the push is now on to support Watson because, well, because he can’t be guilty. Just look at Pora, Bain et al. Those cases are different in my opinion.

      • Loop

         /  5th April 2020

        The hard evidence is? The recordings? I haven’t heard them. The contaminated “hair” evidence which, from memory, was in an evidence bag with a cut in it (which happened to turn up weeks later in a second search of the yacht, the first which turned up NOTHING? The evidence the water taxi driver identified a 2 mast yacht? The evidence of the two prisoners, both of which were paid by police both of which recanted their evidence? The evidence of other witnesses wishing to give statements being totally ignored by the police? That evidence?

    • patupaiarehe

       /  4th January 2018

      @ Alan
      You are dead right mate. Many years ago, I was sentenced to a year of ‘intensive supervision’, due to some rather bad behaviour, on a drunken night out on the town. I formed a good relationship with my probation officer, and it didn’t take her long to realise that I wasn’t at risk of harming anything (except a full beer fridge 😀 ). When my ‘Proby’ was on holiday, I still had to ‘report’ to the office every week. The colleague of hers that I was forced to deal with, had a bad attitude, so got the same from me in return. When my regular ‘Proby’ came back from her holiday, she rang me & told me that her colleague was really concerned about the risk that I might pose to the public. I laughed, & asked her what had changed while she was on holiday. She said she didn’t know. I told her that nothing had, but that her colleague fancied herself as a ball busting bitch, and I didn’t appreciate her attitude towards me, since she didn’t know me as well as you do.
      I ‘reported’ to my regular ‘Proby’ a few days later. It took under five minutes for the frown to disappear from her face. She told me that I should ‘adjust my attitude’, when dealing with people who don’t know me.
      I replied, “I thought I was supposed to be honest here!”…

  2. In quite a few recent murder cases after the appeal processes have finished, the convicted person’s supporters have put up advocacy attacking one piece or another of the Crown’s evidence. The reasoning seems to be that if they can cast doubt on this one piece of evidence, then that destroys the whole Crown case. For Scott Watson, this is the mystery ketch that no-one photographed. What is never discussed is that the jury sat through a lot of evidence. No one piece might be conclusive, but the evidence has to be seen in totality. Unless that is looked at, then all discussion seems moot.
    That isn’t to say juries can get it wrong even if the whole lot of evidence says something different. Many think that this was the case for both the recent David Bain and Peter Ellis cases.


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