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Introduction - OPERATION TAM
One of New Zealand’s highest profile investigations began on 2 January 1998 after young friends Olivia Hope and Ben Smart disappeared in the early hours of New Year’s morning. Ben, (21) and Olivia, (17) were last seen by Furneaux Lodge water taxi operator Guy Wallace who ferried them, along with a mystery stranger, to a yacht moored in the Marlborough Sound’s Endeavour Inlet.
In spite of massive official and private searches of the Sounds, few clues have been found to indicate what happened to them. Families, friends, police and the public all wonder whether they were press-ganged as crew by an itinerant yachtie, have they run away or have they been abducted and murdered? As time passes, the latter scenario appears the most likely and this has now been acknowledged by police who have privately told the family to expect the worst.

Their pictures published in newspapers and on television show an attractive duo and their backgrounds established they had real promise. This and many other elements have combined to give the investigation its high profile, including;

  • Detective Inspector Rob Pope’s media management style. Reporters covering the case found the officer in charge of the investigation enigmatic and frustratingly guarded in his briefings about how the case was progressing.
  • Early in the investigation police issued an artist’s impression of a blue and white ketch (two-masted) with round portholes, which Olivia and Ben were believed to have boarded shortly before they disappeared. However police subsequently focused their interest on a single-masted sloop which they impounded for forensic study. Police said they had doubts the ketch existed, then ruled it out and said witnesses were genuinely mistaken – which was strongly publicly denied by two witnesses.
  • Police seized and impounded a Picton man’s yacht and subjected it to intensive forensic tests, then returned it almost 10 weeks later, minus a hatch.
  • The Hope and Smart families conducted extensive private searches and Gerald Hope, Olivia’s father takes on a high media profile including featuring in an Assignment current affairs TV programme.
  • Some members of the public publicly criticised police for what they saw as slow responses in seeking them out for the information they had, after they had contacted police.
  • Police attracted criticism from Olivia’s family after an uncomplimentary intelligence report about her was accidentally circulated to some boating clubs and published in the New Zealand Herald.
  • Two senior former senior police officers, now private detectives, are employed to look after the interests of a man whose yacht was seized early in the investigation.
  • Olivia’s father, Gerald Hope talks of employing Joe Karam to ‘audit the investigation’. (Karam wrote a book about the Bain family massacre investigation and prosecution which was highly critical of police).

    CrimeCo has followed the case closely. A 10,000 words, 21 page, chronology of events, along with editorial comment on aspects of the case is available on this site. See Sounds like murder.

    If that’s too big a read, refer to any of the 20 aspects of this mystery which have been isolated for you, - see topic index under Sequence file.

    A book, "Trial by Trickery" by Keith Hunter attacking the jury's verdict and the way it was acquired is now available, for more information please see

    Next related article: Forward to The DisappearanceThe Disappearance

    Back to Operation TAM - Olivia Hope and Ben Smart Index

  • What's happened to Olivia Hope and Ben Smart

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