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Family Determination
An interesting feature of the investigation into the disappearance of friends Olivia Hope and Ben Smart has been the unprecedented high profile of Olivia’s father Gerald. His daughter Olivia (17), and her friend Ben (21, disappeared in the early hours of New Years Day 1998, after being dropped off along with a mystery man at a yacht moored in Endeavour Inlet, off Furneaux Lodge.
One of New Zealand’s highest profile investigations began on 2 January but in spite of police commitment to finding the pair, their fate remains a mystery. The most likely explanation seems that they were abducted and murdered.

Early in the inquiry Gerald Hope showed a determination to pursue any angle available to him including utilising the media. On 6 January he made his first appeal through the media for people who may have information beneficial to the inquiry to contact police. On 11 January he appealed through the media for the ‘mystery man’ seen with the two friends when they were dropped off at his moored yacht, to return Olivia and Ben. He asked the man to call him anonymously; even on marine radio, saying police would be unable to track him down from that.

In spite of the trauma the families were experiencing, they made themselves available to the media early in the inquiry, including for family photo shoots. They would have understood that their cooperation would be helpful to the investigation, adding interest and public sympathy, which can be very persuasive in motivating witnesses to come forward.

Soon after the preliminary official police searches finished, the families, led by Gerald Hope, mounted their own using aircraft and boats operated by volunteers. Mr Hope said the private searches were integral because police did not have the resources to cover such a huge area. (Blenheim Lions Club assisted in fund-raising to help finance private searches). Members of the North Island Mana Boating Club provided boats and personnel.

As late as 17 January Gerald Hope told The Dominion he refused to believe or comprehend the worst, even though the pair had then been missing for 16 days. He said he and the family refused to look into the possible black side of their daughter’s disappearance. “We don’t think in a criminal way, we don’t have criminal minds,” he said. “It is not in the nature of our human spirit to think that way and we won’t until it is proved otherwise.” However, his views change as the inquiry extends into long weeks.

Mr Hope described Olivia as having inner strength that would help her in whatever situation she found herself – ‘a wonderful young woman, and a wonderful daughter’ - and he said he would not give up hope that she would come back to them.

A week later the families were still refusing to believe Olivia and Ben could be dead. Gerald Hope said the families were not giving up. “It’s not naïve optimism. It’s just that we really find it hard to believe our daughter went down to share New Years Eve with friends and hasn’t returned.” This, in spite of the fact police had been telling the families for almost a week, to expect the worst.

Families ask for high tech help
In early February a month after the disappearances, the families approached Police Minister Jack Elder and asked him for high-tech underwater equipment to search deep areas of the Sounds. Gerald Hope was reported as asking Mr Elder to approach Australian defence agencies if the technology was not available in New Zealand. He also asked Mr Elder to lobby Cabinet for more funds for the investigation.

Assignment programme
Gerald Hope featured on a TVNZ Assignment programme on 12 March dealing with the personal aspects of Olivia’s disappearance. The Smart family was invited to participate. According to Assignment, they supported Mr Hope’s decision to participate but chose to maintain their low media profile.

On the programme, Mr Hope gave a glimpse into his own character and that of Olivia and an insight into the highly supportive and intellectually privileged environment in which she was nurtured. He described her as highly motivated and super-active, sharing an excellent relationship with her parents.

The accidental release of the police personality profile on Olivia early in the investigation and the publication of details by the New Zealand Herald was described by presenter Kerry-Anne Evans as one of the family’s darkest moments. The profile described Olivia as ‘emotional, spoilt, sexually active and a drinker’. Mr Hope said the profile was ‘inept and unprofessional, an unethically irresponsible piece of documentation which in no way described or reflected her character.’ Head prefect at her college, a gifted musician about to start studying law at Otago University, Olivia had just earned a school report describing her as someone who would succeed in anything she applied herself to. The report was described on the television programme as ‘one to make any parent proud.’

Mr Hope’s determination to find out what happened to his daughter and her friend has seen his involvement in the case to an unprecedented degree, including organising and coordinating private searches and exploring media opportunities to keep up the case media profile. He said he needed to be busy rather than to just wait. He said, at the end of the day they (the families) won’t go away ’until what happened is irrevocably determined’, but agreed this could be some time off. He said the families had become frustrated because something should have turned up by then. “There should by now, be hard evidence of death or information to support another line of inquiry – neither has happened and we need to ask if we are on the right track,” he said.
He was strangely silent about the police. Having been closely associated with them since Olivia’s disappearance, viewers might have expected comment on whether he had confidence in the investigation team or an appreciation or otherwise of their commitment to Operation Tam. The only time he edged into the matter of the investigation, was to say he has twice met informally with Auckland businessman Joe Karam, who, in his book David and Goliath, cast serious doubts on police competence and methods in investigating and prosecuting the Bain family massacre. He said Mr Karam has offered help but the families had not yet decided if they would employ him.

Mr Hope said comments from Mr Karam had been sobering. “He has said not to take things at face value – ask – probe – don’t accept what we have been told is absolutely correct.” He said Mr Karam might be able to ‘audit’ the investigation. (This disclosure on the programme came as a complete surprise to Detective Inspector Pope).

Events had eroded Mr Hope’s earlier trust in human nature and he said he was now reflecting on whether he prepared Olivia adequately to be aware of risk. “We did such a good job in developing her character – and it was still developing – that she was probably more trusting than some of her city peers would be. What happened opened our eyes beyond our middle-class existence. I was naive, so how could I warn Olivia to be more careful if I was not aware of what was out there?”

“There are so many people out there (in the Sounds) with interesting backgrounds known to police - fifty out of 2000 people with criminal histories.” He said society needs to review just how much trust a young person should place in other people. “Should we get a police printout on who is going to be there?” he asks.

He said if the pair had been murdered, there would be no forgiveness. In the first two weeks of the investigation all he wanted to do was find out who did it and dispose of them in the quickest and most effective way he could think of. He said it was time to get tougher – ‘an eye for an eye’. “If their deaths have been caused by someone, there will be no compensation (for the families) by incarcerating them...” “...Society has had a gutsful. Life should be life, not 10 years...” “...They need to be put away so they are no longer a risk to society.” While he did not say so directly, he indicated losing his earlier abhorrence of capital punishment.

Mr Hope said whoever killed Olivia won’t get away with it. “I am absolutely convinced the truth will come out,” he said.

For more information refer to any of the 20 topics isolated for you by CrimeCo. Sequentially, Mystery Man is recommended.

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Gerald Hope's high media profile.

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