An extraordinary claim has been followed by an extraordinary debunking - author and journalist Ian Wishart says he has identified a mystery woman said to be murder victim Olivia Hope.
The claim emerged this year in a confidential report compiled by a group of concerned yachties who believed Scott Watson had been wrongly convicted for the murders of Hope and Ben Smart.
The report by the Maritime Research Group included a distant and grainy snap of a woman the authors claimed was Hope, 17. It was taken at Marys Bay five days after she and Smart, 21, were said to have been killed following a 1997 New Year's Eve party.
The group had used the image as part of a report that had advanced the theory a drug running syndicate was behind the murders.
But Wishart told the Herald he had identified the boat as belonging to Bruce Farley, owner of a Nelson-based cleaning company, and the woman on the back as Farley's then-wife.
He said he would be publishing details which attacked many of the claims by the Maritime Research Group.
Wishart said: "Respected Buddhist monk Bruce Farley's runabout was not used to transport a kidnapped Ben and Olivia. The couple on the boat did not have their hands tied behind their backs, they were merely bracing themselves as the speedboat planed across the bay."
Farley told the Herald he had seen the photograph that had been used to advance the Maritime Research Group's theory and he was convinced the woman on the back of the dinghy was his then-wife.
He said police had interviewed him at the time and ruled out his motor launch as having anything to do with the case.
"The blonde person in the boat was my wife, who is also blonde. It was taken at Marys Bay where we had a holiday house."
It's the second fight Wishart has picked over the case - the publication of his book Elementary this year devoted large chunks to attacking theories advanced by author Keith Hunter, who claimed Watson was wrongly convicted in his book Trial By Trickery.
Wishart's investigation into the Maritime Research Group's report will be published on his Investigate Magazine website. It comes as the Maritime Research Group has published an extensive video version of its investigation on Youtube. The Herald is seeking comment from the group.
• The Herald front page from January 28th.