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Imminent Sounds arrest ‘speculation’
Police were obviously annoyed at media reports sparked by the Sunday Star Times lead story and billboards on 17 May, that the arrest was imminent, of a man believed responsible for murdering young friends Olivia Hope and Ben Smart earlier this year.
While not denying the claim outright, the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Inspector Rob Pope said later in the day, it was ‘speculative’.

Media arrest predictions came after police and navy recovered a large, wrapped package from the seabed at the entrance to Endeavour Inlet on Saturday 16 May. This was a new and apparently significant development in Operation Tam, one of New Zealand’s highest profile police investigations in recent years.

Inquiries into the disappearance of Olivia Hope (17) and Ben Smart, (21) began on 2 January 1998 after the pair was reported missing. They were last seen in the early hours of New Year’s morning as they were taken by water taxi, along with a mystery stranger, to a yacht moored in the Endeavour Inlet. In spite of expenditure of some $3M, no trace of them has been found.

DNA success claim and denial

The Sunday Star Times said police had achieved a major breakthrough after DNA tests on the hatch taken from a sloop police impounded on January 12, 1998 had ‘returned positive results’. The story said police had told the families about ‘the development’ and to expect an arrest very soon.

However, The Dominion of Monday 18 May reported Ben Smart’s mother denying police had indicated an arrest might be pending. She said the families had been told what was in the package recovered from the seabed but had been asked not to say what it was to reporters. However, Radio New Zealand reported someone in the family saying the package did not contain human remains. TV3 claimed it was a furled sail, but Mr Pope refused to speculate, saying that was harmful to the investigation and hurtful to the families.

Seabed discovery brings renewed hope

Recovery of the package sparked a strong response from throughout New Zealand with people hoping it might lead to the resolution of the mystery. It was located during a navy seabed
Media arrest predictions came after police and navy recovered a large, wrapped package from the seabed at the entrance to Endeavour Inlet on Saturday 16 May
search using sophisticated underwater viewing equipment. Divers assisted by a recompression chamber went down 50m on Friday and located the item and readied it for recovery the following day.

Media reports said navy divers had wrapped the item in plastic before the lift. Police arranged for the Picton Harbourmaster to place a 200-meter media exclusion zone around the HMNZS Wakakura during the lifting operation. However, water-borne press and television film crews with long lenses were able to capture the moment from outside the zone as the shroud-like object slung in a large net was hoisted aboard, water streaming from it.
Police remained tight-lipped about the discovery, but there was widespread anticipation among reporters and the public that it was what police had hoped to find – something linking the victims with their killer. The victims’ families and friends attended a church service on Sunday, where special prayers were offered for an early resolution of the mystery.

Mr Pope told The Dominion on 18 May, that he would not comment on the item recovered from the Sounds till police had completed their examination. “We are just evaluating, examining and assessing it, we won’t know the results of that for at least two days,” he said.

He also spoke to Radio NZ’s Jeff Robinson on Morning Report on Monday 18 May but would not be drawn on any aspect of the recovered item, other than to say it was just one item among some 350 others that police had seized during their investigation. Nor would he comment on media reports of a successful DNA test on the seized hatch. His position, he said, remained the same as it had from the time he took charge of the inquiry – that he refused to speculate because it could damage the inquiry and was hurtful for the families.

For more information refer to any of the almost 30 topics isolated for you by CrimeCo. Sequentially,Where’s Olivia? is recommended.

Next related article: Forward to Father ‘needs to know where Olivia is’Father ‘needs to know where Olivia is’
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Police annoyed at media reports

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