Sunday, 25 Oct 2020

Farmer who laced baby food with metal and made ‘blood-curdling threats’ to Tesco is jailed for 14 years

A father of two who planted shards of metal in baby food as part of a blackmail plot against Tesco has been jailed for 14 years.

Nigel Wright sent dozens of letters and emails to the supermarket giant in a bid to extort £1.4m in Bitcoin.

Sentencing the 45-year-old sheep farmer, from Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, a judge compared his actions to terrorism.

Justice Warby said: “You chose to use threats of a particularly blood-curdling nature, deliberately designed to exploit the vulnerability of children, and the consequent vulnerability of a supermarket concerned for its business.”

He said Wright had been “remorseless” and “clearly revelling in the process”, and that he was “under no pressure from others, or from circumstances”.

The judge added: “It is not as if you had – for instance – a legitimate grievance against Tesco, nor can any other explanation easily be identified for engaging in this series of repulsive actions, apart from greed.”

Wright was found guilty in August after a trial at the Old Bailey which heard he spiked jars of Heinz and Cow & Gate baby food with broken-up blades of a craft knife and iron filings between May 2018 and February 2020.

It became the largest blackmail investigation ever conducted in the UK, with more than 100 officers deployed across the country to work on the case day and night at various points in their hunt to find whoever was responsible.

In December 2019, Morven Smith in Lockerbie had already fed a few spoonfuls to her 10-month-old baby when she spotted “something shiny” in the bowl and pulled it out.

She said: “It was horrendous. I felt sick I was so shocked.”

Another mother, Harpreet Kaur-Singh in Rochdale, told Tesco she too had found metal while feeding her nine-month-old daughter.

She said she had discovered shards of metal in a jar of Heinz Sunday chicken dinner and a jar of cheesy pasta stars.

In all, 42,000 jars were recovered, although there is no evidence that any more had been tampered with.

It cost Tesco an estimated £2.7m for the recall, refunds and investigation.

At trial, Wright denied the allegations and instead claimed that he himself was being blackmailed by a group of travellers who had threatened to kill his children and rape his wife.

But he was convicted of two counts of contaminating goods and three counts of blackmail for demanding cryptocurrency from Tesco in exchange for revealing where the contaminated food had been placed.

He was also found guilty of a further charge of blackmail for demanding £150,000 worth of Bitcoin from a driver with whom he had had a road rage altercation in an anonymous letter.

Wright was jailed for 11 years for the plot against Tesco, with a further three years for the note sent to the driver, in which he threatened to execute him with a rifle and murder his wife and children.

Justice Warby described the letter as “fit to chill the blood”.

When Wright was tracked down to his family home outside Lincolnshire in February this year, police found photographs of contaminated baby food on his laptop – with some the same flavour as the jars affected in Rochdale.

Officers also recovered £100,000 in Bitcoin, which had been sent by undercover officers during the investigation.

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