Week in Review

Westport rats ‘Mr X’ is Dr Nick Wall

The man behind the mystery lab responsible for 1080 tests that puzzled toxicologists is a chemist with a history of test results unable to be replicated. Farah Hancock reports. 

Timaru’s Dr Nick Wall has been identified by Flora and Fauna of Aotearoa as the chemist responsible for tests it commissioned on rats and other creatures washed up on a Westport beach.

Wall has previously been associated with disputed test results. In one instance these resulted in costs to ratepayers and taxpayers thought to start between $50,000 and $100,000.

Initially Flora and Fauna of Aotearoa would not identify the independent lab that claimed to find traces of 1080 and its byproducts among the 680 rats that washed up onto a Westport beach in November. The mystery lab also claimed dead weka and a starfish collected at the beach showed signs of consuming 1080. The results contradicted those from Landcare Research, which is accredited to test for 1080. Its tests found no trace of 1080.

In November, after agreeing to confidentiality, Newsroom was given a name for a lab to discuss its credentials.

A man, identifying himself only as Mr X, phoned and spelled out the name Ideas Lab. Newsroom was unable to find this lab listed as having the ISO accreditation claimed on a subsequent press release. Despite claiming to have a large operation, no business was found listed as Ideas Lab. Further searches based on Ideals Hub, a surface coating company that appears to be connected with Wall, also failed to show laboratory ISO accreditation in New Zealand. 

Wall's identity as the person behind the tests was suggested by author of Protecting Paradise, Dave Hansford, in The Spinoff. At the time, Wall would not admit his involvement, according to Hansford's article, telling him: 

“It is a non story mate,,,, you have barked up the wrong tree again and my legal team is picking it apart word by word for factual inaccuracies and supposition……I cannot be bothered to dignify your rubbish with even reading it.”

Hansford said Wall repeatedly threatened legal action against him for suggesting he was behind the mystery lab.

Yesterday Flora and Fauna of Aotearoa published a press release confirming Hansford's guess:

"Dr Wall of Ideas Lab, a highly-qualified UK scientist of complex chemical analysis, who conducted the independent tests, runs successful international businesses that draw on high quality skills and cutting edge technologies. He initially wanted to remain anonymous due to receiving threats in the past; however his identity has since been made public."

Hansford told Newsroom clues given to him by a Flora and Fauna spokeswoman during an interview led him to Wall's identity. She told Hansford the laboratory wanted to remain secret due to past bullying having led to receiving a bullet in the mail and slashed tyres.

"A momentary Google for laboratory and receiving bullets in the mail, vandalism and slashed tyres led me straight to a story."

The story, published in Stuff in 2015, details past claims by Wall of contamination he found that others had been unable to.

He claimed to have found DDT in Lake Opuha and glyphosate in milk. The ensuing investigation into Lake Opuha by ECan, thought to have cost between $50,000 to $100,000, failed to find any proof of DDT. A Ministry for Primary Industries attempt to replicate Wall's results with milk also failed. Wall refused to share his methodology with MPI. The cost of MPI's investigation is unknown. The Stuff article says government agencies involved in investigating Wall's claims do not know where his laboratory is.

In an earlier story published on Stuff, Wall said he sleeps for two hours a night, reads hundreds of pages of scientific papers a day and is convinced an old boys' network is hiding contamination in New Zealand. 

When he spoke anonymously with Newsroom, he called Landcare Research's testing methods outdated.

Hansford thinks Wall's coming out puts the "onus on him to explain his methodology".

"I for one will be fascinated to see how he arrived at the results he did, as will a number of toxicologists."

Hansford said three toxicologists he talked to didn't just doubt the results, but were bewildered by them. The speed at which the testing was completed was something experts couldn't reconcile.

"Toxicology testing is a very lengthy business. Especially when you're trying to invent standards and methods for species."

Public responses from toxicologists before Wall's identity was revealed included comment from the University of Otago's Dr Belinda Cridge, who was surprised at the results:

"... I am reluctant to fully support the new results until we receive a detailed description of all the methods and controls used by the second laboratory. The results that were published contain several very unusual findings which are in direct conflict with all published studies to date, which means that an open and robust scientific discussion needs to take place. We need to determine why such anomalous results may have occurred and assess any further downstream implications."

University of Canterbury Professor Ian Shaw, who had previously spoken at a Flora and Fauna of Aotearoa conference, also made comment:

"I understand that Flora and Fauna Aotearoa have reported to the media that I will write a statement to the effect that the laboratory they used for the analysis is appropriately accredited for the work. I agreed to comment on the laboratory’s credentials if Flora and Fauna Aotearoa told me the name of the lab, but they did not. I have no knowledge whatsoever of the laboratory that did the work and thus cannot comment on their expertise in the context of fluoroacetate and fluorocitrate analysis."

Flora and Fauna of Aotearoa has called for a moratorium on 1080 use until an investigation is undertaken.

Newsroom has asked Wall for an interview and is awaiting a response.

Read more:

Questions raised over Westport rat 1080 results

What killed the Westport rats

Rat-aclysm tests forest defences

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