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Still Unaware
Where have they been???
As incredible as it may sound, there are people in New Zealand who remain unaware of Operation Tam, one of New Zealand’s highest profile police investigation in some years! (Operation Tam drew its name from the Tamarack, the yacht missing teenager Olivia Hope and her sister Amelia joined to cruise the Sounds and from which they traveled to Furneaux Lodge for the New Year celebrations).

Police said on 24 March, in the 12th week of their hunt for missing friends Olivia (17) and Ben Smart (21), that they were still trying to contact witnesses who did not know about the investigation despite its extensive media coverage.

The friends have not been seen since the early hours of New Years Day 1998 after they were dropped off, along with a mystery man, onto a yacht moored in the Marlborough Sound’s Endeavour Inlet, off Furneaux Lodge. They were reported missing on 2 January and a large police search, then criminal investigation began.

Inquiry head, Detective Inspector Rob Pope told The Dominion on 24 March, police were still tracking down witnesses who were reluctant to speak to police or who did not know of the pair’s disappearance. “For example, last week police interviewed three people who had no knowledge of this inquiry to date,” he said. All three lived in New Zealand and were in their late 20s or early 30s.

New information on sloop’s movements
The following day, Mr Pope said there were ‘fresh scenarios’ about the pair’s disappearance after revelations a sloop at the centre of the inquiry had arrived at Erie Bay quite a lot later than was first thought. This sloop was seized by police on 12 January as part of the investigation and was closely examined by forensic scientists. Police later put it back in the water for sea trials including timing its passage between key points on the Sounds.

Rob Pope said it was originally thought the sloop arrived in Erie Bay between 11am and 1pm on New Years Day. However, its arrival time had been put back after fresh interviews with people who made the original sightings. It was now believed to have arrived in the bay at about 5pm.

This meant there was now up to six hours for which the sloop was unaccounted for ‘which would inevitably lead to more rumour about what had happened to the friends.’ “When times are unaccounted for, your mind can run riot on scenarios and possibilities,” Mr Pope said. “That’s why we need more sightings so that we can narrow those thought processes, so that we can actually then focus on what in fact has happened to Ben and Olivia.”

Getting closer?
Interestingly, Mr Pope is reported in The Dominion of 24 March, that police were getting closer to identifying a man considered a key to the disappearance of Ben and Olivia. “We are confident that we have identified a man as being involved in a number of altercations in Furneaux Lodge,” he said. “We believe it’s the same man that was last seen with Ben and Olivia, though we have not confirmed that.”

The previous day, Mr Pope said the inquiry focus was narrowing considerably and would continue to do so. He said the length of the inquiry was proportionate to the amount of information be to be processed. Police still had information to verify and several witnesses to interview.

Discussions over condition of returned sloop
The sloop seized by police on 12 January, in the course of the Operation Tam investigation was returned to the owner’s family on 20 March. Before returning it, police had commissioned a marine survey of the yacht to ensure it had not been damaged while in their hands. However, after the handover, the family told police they were not satisfied. Paint had been damaged. They asked for it to be taken out of the water again so a further marine survey could be conducted. They said they expect police to pay for this and for any repairs.

On 23 March, Rob Pope responded to criticism about the yacht’s condition from the owner’s family’s lawyer. Mr Pope said police had invited an independent representative to examine the yacht but this was declined. He said police were prepared to cooperate fully with discussions to ‘negotiate an equitable remedy.’

CrimeCo has followed the case closely. For an uninterrupted account of Operation Tam, chronology of events, along with editorial comment on aspects of the case, refer to Sounds Like Murder. This is a 10,000 word, 21 page account of the case, also available to download as a Word for Windows 6.0 document, exclusively from crime.co.nz.

If that’s too big a read, refer to any of the 21 aspects of this mystery which have been isolated for you. Sequentially, Introduction is recommended.


Next related article: Forward to Sounds Like MurderSounds Like Murder
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New info on sloop's movements. Not all New Zealander's have heard of the disappearance - incredible but true....

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