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WATSON - Scott - 03/07/2015


Parole hearing

Under section 21(1) of the Parole Act 2002



Hearing: 3 July 2015 at (withheld) Prison

Members of the Board: 
      Hon J W Gendall QC – Panel Convenor
      Mr J Thomson
      Dr J Skipworth
      Ms P Rose


Support People: 



1. Scott Watson is serving a life sentence imposed in the High Court at Wellington on 11 September 1999 for two crimes of murder, which occurred in the Marlborough Sounds on 1 January 1998.  He was ordered to serve a minimum non-parole period of 17 years by the Trial and Sentencing Judge.  His parole eligibility date has been reached, namely, 16 June 2015.  He appears before the Board for the first time for consideration of parole.

2. After his conviction and sentence for the murder crimes he was later sentenced in the Wellington District Court on 27 November 1999 for crimes of assault on a police officer (in November 1998), wilful damage (also in November 1998), which occurred whilst he was in custody before the murder trial, and also theft which occurred in November 1997 (six weeks before his index crimes).

3. He appealed against his convictions and the length of the non-parole term.  The convictions for murder and non-parole period were upheld by the Court of Appeal in a judgment delivered on 8 May 2000.  He later sought special leave of the Privy Council to appeal his convictions.  This was declined.  Subsequently, he lodged a petition with the Governor-General seeking the exercise in his favour of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy and consequently quashing of his convictions.  This was declined. 

4. The end result is that through the established process of the criminal justice system through a jury’s verdict, one appeal, one refused leave to appeal, and an unsuccessful petition, he remains convicted of two murders. He remained subject to a sentence imposed by law of life imprisonment.  He will have to serve that life sentence whether in prison or if released on parole. 

5. We have had access to the Court of Appeal judgment dismissing Mr Watson’s appeal in order to receive a comprehensive summary or overview of the trial evidence which is recorded in paras [2]-[11] of the judgment.

6. Mr Watson and some supporters, which include withheld, withheld and some journalists have expressed opinions, often strongly, that Mr Watson is innocent of his crimes.  He himself maintains his innocence.  Those supporters say that for that reason he should be released or, as one says, “set free”. 

7. We need to make it clear that the Board is not able to be involved with issues of guilt, which are determined by the criminal justice process.  The Board’s jurisdiction is over those criminals serving sentences in excess of two years and that jurisdiction continues until the sentence date ends.  In Mr Watson’s case it continues until the end of his life sentence.  He can only be released on parole if he meets the statutory requirement, that he no longer poses an undue risk to the safety of the community.  If released he still remains subject to the Parole Board’s supervision in the sense that he can be recalled at any time if he again poses an undue risk to the safety of the community.  That will continue for life. 

8. We are mindful of a further guiding principle that offenders must not be detained any longer than is consistent with the safety of the community.  That of course implies, and is subject to the overriding provision, that an offender may only be released if the Board is satisfied on reasonable grounds that he/she if released on parole “will not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community or any person or class of persons” having regard to:
    - support and supervision available to the offender;
    - public interest in reintegration of the offender as a law abiding citizen.

9. The Board’s function is to focus solely on whether Mr Watson poses an undue risk to the safety of the community or any person in it given his conviction and offence history, index convictions and life sentence for murder, available support in the community, rehabilitative treatment undertaken to reduce risk and the many other circumstances which the Board must take into account in any structured decision-making exercise.

10. One submitter says that any decision other than to release on parole would be “to cover up” the truth and that Mr Watson deserves to be released because he has served “long enough”.  That displays a misunderstanding of the Parole Board’s functions.

11. We refer to one further submission contained in Mr Watson’s written submissions to the Board, in which he encloses written submissions and letters from a significant number of family and other persons.  Mr Watson, says amongst other things, that he has “vast public and media support” and says an opinion poll shows that more than 50% of the population believe he should not be in prison.  He says that this should carry some weight for the Parole Board “whose responsibility is the community from which the poll is taken”.  If that belief is accurately expressed, it is misguided.  Parole decisions are not made on the basis of referendum or opinion polls.

12. It has been necessary to recite those matters in order to put to rest or deal with a number of submissions presented to us essentially on the basis that the submitters have the opinion that Mr Watson did not commit the crimes for which he has been convicted and upheld on appeal. 

13. Mr Watson initially had very uneven behaviour in prison with numerous incidents involving other prisoners, staff and disregard for rules and regulations.  He had two positive drug tests in 2001 and 2002 but misconducts did not follow because of administrative paperwork errors.  Nevertheless, the tests were positive.  He has had four prison misconducts over his time in prison.  But in recent times his behaviour has improved and he is compliant and working well inside the wire.  He is eligible to undertake the Special Treatment Unit Programme (STURP) to address his violent behaviour but the Parole Assessment Report records that this is unlikely to occur given his denial of his index offending.  The Parole Assessment Report however, states that:

           “If in the future there was an admission of responsibility, and treatment undertaken, progress would be slow, and likely inhibited by a considerable number of responsivity issues in particular personality characteristics that are often resistant to change.”

14. Those characteristics are referred to in the psychological reports provided to the Board some of which are referred to below.  The Parole Assessment Report records the facts that are underpinning Mr Watson’s offending which are identified as:
    - Violent propensity
    - Attitudes of entitlement
    - Drugs and alcohol

15. It has been suggested by, or on Mr Watson’s behalf that release on parole will not occur unless there is an acknowledgement of his guilt.  That is incorrect and a misguided view.  There are a significant number of offenders released on parole because they are not assessed as an undue risk, who maintain innocence.  What is required, by law, before an offender can be released on parole is that they reduce their risk, through whatever means, to less than undue.  How Mr Watson reduces his risk through successful rehabilitation treatment is a matter for him and the Department of Corrections.  The Parole Board does not “sentence manage” but can, and will support, measures necessary to reduce risk.  We do so in para (29) below.

16. Amongst his supporters’ submissions is the statement that Mr Watson is not “characteristically violent” and his “only conviction against a person was a minor common assault at age 16 ….”  However, whilst on remand for the index offending, he assault a police officer with associated wilful damage, on 23 November 1998.  Further, whilst serving this sentence, he severely assaulted, so as to knock unconscious, a fellow prisoner, for which he was found guilty by a Visiting Justice.  He was sentenced to 12 days cell confinement and 60 days loss of privileges.  That occurred on 22 February 2007.  Mr Watson’s challenge to the decision pursued in the High Court at Christchurch was dismissed.

17. We mention those matters to illustrate that a claim by a supporter that there has been no violent behaviour since age 16 is incorrect.  The issue is not necessarily that convictions for violence exist (which they do) but whether a person’s behaviour displays violent propensities.

18. There have been two psychological assessments undertaken of Mr Watson.  The first was on 13 March 2015 to ascertain rehabilitation options and the second is the subject of a report to the Board dated 29 April 2015.  Mr Watson advised that he is challenging the contents and opinions expressed in those reports.  The Board has not received nor considered the earlier report and only has access to the later one of 29 April 2015.

19. He has not engaged in any offence related treatment, although for life sentence prisoners this typically commences from the parole eligibility date.  However, we are told that Mr Watson did not view himself as in need of any programmes whether the Dependency Treatment Unit (DTU) or the Special Treatment Unit Rehabilitation Programme (STURP) to address violent propensities.  Mr Watson reported that he sees no role or benefit in attending a DTU programme. 

20. A checklist to screen for Psychopathy (the PCL:SV) administered in respect of Mr Watson indicated a score consistent with offenders who show an elevated rate and speed of recidivism particularly relating to violence.  That is a view apparently shared by two psychologists.  Mr Watson disputes the opinions of the psychologists. 

21. Clearly, Mr Watson has substantial family and other support.  We are left unsure as to how Mr Watson would actively make use of support people to assist him manage his risk areas.  In his responses to the Board, he showed limited insight into risk areas that he might face.

22. The psychologist recommends (29 April 2015 report) that Mr Watson was:
 “… assessed to present with a very high risk of future reoffending, including dynamic factors associated with violence and more minor violations of conditions.
 [36] It is recommended that given apparent complexities around Mr Watson’s personality features, recidivism risk level, lengthy imprisonment and the scale of his offences, the STURP programme is the empirically supported treatment of preference.  It is recognised that he currently declined to consider this option due to a number of reasons including maintaining innocence of his murder convictions.  Should he wish to reconsider his view, he can be provided with further information about STURP by his case manager or he may ask to speak with STURP staff regarding his concerns for his confidentiality..
 [37] In the short-term, it may be beneficial for Mr Watson to address his offence-related substance use at a prison based Drug Treatment Unit (DTU) which can also provide orientation to an environment where personal change is a supported part of the culture.”

23. Although Mr Watson says he has no alcohol or drug issues, we note that these were clearly previous features of his lifestyle, and the circumstances of the offending as described in the judgment of the Court of Appeal R v Watson [2000 NZCA 46] included evidence that he was intoxicated on the night of the index offending.

24. Mr Watson has submitted three alternative addresses at which he could live if released on parole.  They are with (withheld) or (withheld) or (withheld).  For the reason that, in the Board’s view, he is an undue risk to community safety parole will not follow at present.  He will understand that if that occurs, there would be a prohibition from entering the Marlborough or Nelson provinces at any time.

25. A summary of his risk management is described by the psychologist (para 32) as follows:
 “Overall assessment was made with regard to static and dynamic risk factors as well as clinical factors including the potential lethality [sic] of future violence, limited insight or responsibility taking and the unusual nature of a multiple murder.  On the currently available information Mr Watson is assessed to present with a very high risk of violent recidivism.  His level of insight, ability and motivation to manage his risk factors remains unknown.  Whilst limited information is known about his index offending, the following factors were implicated: perceived sexual rejection, ruminations upon revenge, positive affect associated with inflicting pain and distress, and disinhibition through alcohol intoxication.

          Based on his past behaviour, should he reoffend Mr Watson may display a high level of callousness and employ significant efforts to evade detection of further offending.”

26. As an untreated offender serving a life sentence for convictions of two murders, Mr Watson must be assessed with considerable caution.

27. The Sentencing Judge, in his remarks when imposing the 17 year minimum non-parole period expressed his view that:
 “This was a random killing which had all the hallmarks of the work of a lone psychopath.  I am not in any position in the absence of relevant reports to determine whether Watson falls into that category.  If he does then the chances of him being released on parole, ever, are remote.  Some of the hallmarks of that category of criminal offender include grandiosity, callousness, indifference, insensitivity, remorselessness, aggression and hostility, all of which seem to have been present in his character, to the limited extent of the Court’s observation, and so far as can be determined on the available material at this point.”

28. Careful rehabilitation measures must be successfully completed before he could reduce his risk so as to pursue any reintegration activity.  These would have to also be completed if he were to be released as not being an undue risk to the safety of the community.  In our judgment the risk at present is high and “undue”, and his presentation to the Board today has not allayed that concern.

29. If he is not able to presently undertake STURP and DTU treatment, we recommend (and endorse any decision prison management may make) that he engage with intensive one to one psychological counselling and treatment as an initial pathway towards intensive offending focused measures.  It is encouraging that he appears motivated to take such steps.  As we have made it clear, however, sentence management, and rehabilitative pathways are for the expert decision of the Department of Corrections.

30. At present he is an undue risk to the safety of the community and parole is declined.  He will be seen again within the framework provided in the Parole Act 2002 (that is 12 months) at which time if there has been no realistic progress in treatment, the issue of postponement will be considered.  To that extent a formal postponement notice will be sent to Mr Watson prior to him next being seen.



Hon J W Gendall QC
Panel Convenor