The world’s attention was drawn to the Great Barrier Reef, in 2003, when a young American honeymooner died while diving the famous SS Yongala shipwreck. The sight of Tina Watson sinking to her death was even unwittingly immortalised in a photo taken by a fellow tourist (see right). But what appeared a tragic accident took on a more sinister tone. Her husband Gabe was charged with murder but then jailed for manslaughter.Lindsay Simpson has co-authored a book on the mystery…
What drew you to this case?
The photograph was the defining thing. It was just saying to me, “there’s another story here. The truth hasn’t come out”.
How receptive were the families?
The family really didn’t want to talk to us on both sides. Her family are holding out hope that he can be properly dealt with in the US, so they were concerned they might prejudice the case. His family had the policy back then they weren’t talking to the media. We had access to a lot of eyewitnesses and Tina’s best friend, her ex-boyfriend. Between that and speaking to the coroner, police, lawyers we felt we had a really good handle on it, not to mention the inquest script.
What about the theory that a deal was struck to change Gabe’s charge to manslaughter?
If you look at the timeline, he was charged with murder by the coroner who had quite clear reasons for doing so. All he had to decide was, could the jury convict? And he came back withyes they could. Somewhere between December 2008 and May 2009, when [Watson] came back to Australia, supposedly voluntarily to face a murder charge, some deal was struck. They actually made a big deal about the fact that he came back voluntarily to serve a murder charge. They gave him a lesser sentence because of that.
He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Did most people think that was too short?
Yes definitely. The point is he pleaded guilty to section 290, which is death by negligence you might say. So by not giving her air he didn’t allow her to breath.
Because he’s a qualified rescue diver?
Yes I suppose, he didn’t even allow her to share his air. The fact that he was a rescue diver exacerbated it, because he had been taught. [Watson] tried to pretend that he never learnt how to save someone. That was one of many lies he told amongst 16 different versions of the truth.
There were a lot of inconsistencies…
The pieces of the puzzle appeared strange, people talking about the way he acted after the event. The two seasoned divers, who spoke to him immediately after, [when he claimed Tina was too heavy to rescue] said, “that’s bullshit”. So his demeanour and the fact he said he had ruptured eardrums. There’s a whole lot of things that sounded strange, like him talking to her in the morgue saying, “I’m sorry for taking you down”. It wasn’t until 2005 that all the pieces got pulled together.
There’s talk of a US murder trial after his release in November…
I think it is atrocious that [Australia is] holding on to crucial evidence. I think there will be a trial if there is enough evidence to go ahead. Their attorney general is on the record saying he thinks this is worth pursuing. What happens is still up in the air though. My co-author believes there isn’t enough evidence. But whether you think that or not, the point is we have never had a jury to sit on judgements.
How do you feel about the case?
I’m very cynical. In my view he should face a jury. He was charged with murder by the coroner, he was indicted with murder, the only real conclusion can happen when that judicial process plays out. The story has got to come out.
Honeymoon Dive: The Real Story of the Tragic Honeymoon Death of Tina Watson, written by Lindsay Simpson and Jennifer Cooke, is out now, published by Macmillan Australia.