A sheep farmer bought wine and flowers for his primary school teacher wife after planting a jar of baby food containing metal shards at Tesco, a court has heard.
Nigel Wright, 45, was caught on CCTV taking two jars and placing them into his trolley. He then takes out a contaminated jar and puts it in the trolley, before placing it onto the shelf.
He spent £30 buying flowers as a gift for his wife, and wine for their evening meal, before leaving the store in Lockerbie.
The father-of-two, from Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, denies two counts of contaminating goods and three counts of blackmail for demanding £1.4million Bitcoin from Tesco in exchange for revealing where the contaminated food had been placed between May 2018 and February 2020.
His actions caused the supermarket to launch a national product recall and remove the remaining stock from its shelves.
Wright claims he carried out the two-year blackmail plot after he was threatened by unnamed travellers, who demanded £500,000 or they would rape his wife and hang his children ‘from the trees’.
Nigel Wright, 45, spent £30 buying flowers and wine for his primary school teacher wife at a Tesco store in Lockerbie after placing a tin of baby food laced with metal shards on the shelf
Father-of-two from Lincolnshire denies two counts of contaminating goods and three counts of blackmail for demanding £1.4million in Bitcoin from the supermarket
Mother ‘felt sick’ after finding a craft knife blade in baby food jar during feed, court told
Morven Smith, from Lockerbie, had already fed a few spoonfuls of Heinz sweet and sour chicken to her baby when she spotted the shard of metal in the bowl in December 2019.
In a statement, Mrs Smith said she had microwaved half of the jar of baby food in a bowl and put the rest of the jar back in the fridge.
‘I took the bowl out of the microwave – I gave my son a couple of spoonfuls and noticed something shiny – I pulled it out with my fingers at that point.
‘It was horrendous. I felt sick I was so shocked.’
Mrs Smith said her husband found a second blade stuck at the bottom of the jar.
She said at first she had only planned to contact Heinz and Tesco, saying: ‘I didn’t think someone might have done this on purpose.’
It was only when she was wrapping the jar and the blades in a freezer bag that she noticed someone had drawn a circle with a cross through it on the bottom of the product.
‘I felt sick when I first saw this,’ she said.
‘I knew at this point the jar had been marked and someone had done it on purpose.’
Tesco issued a national product recall of all its Heinz baby food and emailed all its Clubcard customers warning them of the risk.
At the Old Bailey today, Wright admitted placing it on a shelf, but said he had been followed by a BMW on his way to Lockerbie before placing the jars, even though road cameras did not pick up a tail.
En route, he had marked up the jar of Heinz baby food he said he had been given to plant, jurors heard.
Prosecutor Julian Christopher QC suggested CCTV from the shop showed he had taken care to avoid suspicion.
He said: ‘What I suggest we see, the first thing you do is take two jars off the shelf and you take the jar you had come with from your pocket and put it in the trolley.
‘And then, as if changing your mind, put the jar back on the shelf.
‘I’m suggesting you have plainly given quite a bit of thought to going about it without attracting suspicion. Did you give quite a bit of thought to that?’
Wright replied: ‘No. I was worried what this person following was going to do.
‘The reason I put it on the shelf was because I thought these people might check.’
Mr Christopher alleged that Wright had also planted more contaminated baby food at another Tesco in Rochdale.
He said: ‘The truth is you did place those two jars in Rochdale and you knew there was more than the jar in Lockerbie that had been placed out there and might be bought by customers.
‘Even by then you had seen the news of the recall of the jars because of the Lockerbie jar. You were still looking to see if there was any other news.’
Wright admitted carrying out a Google search, but continued to deny being responsible for the Rochdale jars.
He said it was ‘total coincidence’ that he sent photographs to Tesco of the same baby food which was found spiked with metal shards by two mothers in Rochdale feeding their babies.
Fragments were found in jars of Heinz Sunday Chicken Dinner and Heinz Cheese and Tomato Pasta Stars in 2018.
The defendant also denied that dozens of letters sent to the supermarket chain were about ‘attacking Tesco’.
In one communication with the superstore, he threatened to go to the national media, but never did, the court heard.
Mr Christopher said: ‘There came a stage you were prepared in the circumstances to put a jar of baby food you knew had been contaminated on a shelf where it would be bought by the parent of a young child.’
Wright told jurors: ‘I was not 100 per cent sure it was contaminated.’
The prosecution suggested that Wright had taken care to avoid suspicion when he placed the contaminated jar on the shelf. The supermarket issued a national recall of the product
The trial is being heard at the Old Bailey court in London, pictured
Mr Christopher went on: ‘You expected it to be contaminated and you put it on a shelf where it might be bought.
‘That’s a more extreme step than telling the national media what you threatened in this letter. Why didn’t you tell the national media?’
Wright replied: ‘I did not want to hurt the store in that way.’
The prosecutor said: ‘So you are prepared to have a jar contaminated by sharp metal be bought by the parent of a young child but you did not want to damage the reputation of Tesco by talking to the national press?’
Wright insisted: ‘I was given the jar on that occasion.’
Two mothers also found shards of metal in Heinz baby food bought in Rochdale
Wright also told the supermarket in a letter that he was in ‘no hurry’ to receive the cash. He told police that he was ‘desperate’ to obtain the £500,000 ransom demanded by a group of unknown men after they threatened to attack his family.
Asked today why he sent the message, Wright said: ‘Because I didn’t think it was suitable to say I’m desperate for this money, I need it now.’
The prosecutor said: ‘”We are in no hurry.” Surely you were in an extreme hurry. Why did you feel sufficiently relaxed to say that?
‘You can’t explain why you are seen to be quite relaxed in the letter.’
Wright was also quizzed on a letter that was sent to Tesco head offices in Welwyn Garden City in December 2018 that contained a white powder.
He told jurors the substance had been derived from an insecticide canister, despite forensic analysis revealing that it had been non-toxic.
He is said to have sent the letter with a ‘taunt’ that a link in one of Tesco’s reply emails had been opened ‘without your ability to trace us through it’.
Mr Christopher added: ‘This was a game for you wasn’t it? You were taking delight in being able to outsmart them.’
The defendant denied it, saying he was in fear of his life and that of his loved ones.
Wright said he initially lied to police following his arrest about what had sparked the dispute with the travellers.
He told jurors: ‘It’s embarrassing. I’m supposed to be the person to protect my family and I could not even protect myself. It was embarrassing and humiliating.’
The farmer claimed he had been ambushed by a man he believed to be connected to the travellers on a number of occasions pressuring him to find the enormous sum.
He also denies a separate charge of blackmail for allegedly demanding £150,000 worth of bitcoin from a driver with whom he had had a road rage altercation.
The trial continues.