Nigel Wright, 45, placed three jars of baby food laced with shards of metal in a bid to extort £1.4 million worth of Bitcoin from the supermarket chain
A Lincolnshire sheep farmer has been jailed for 14 years over a £1.4million blackmail plot involving supermarket giant Tesco.
Nigel Wright, 45, placed three jars of baby food laced with shards of metal, including broken-up blades of a craft knife and iron filings, in a bid to extort £1.4 million worth of Bitcoin from the supermarket chain – who he claimed had been underpaying milk farmers.
Wright planted tampered jars of Heinz and Cow & Gate in branches across the UK – including one in Lockerbie, Scotland – between May 2018 and February 2020.
The married father-of-two also threatened to poison tins of food with cyanide and salmonella unless the supermarket giant sent him the money.
One draft of a letter to Tesco found on the device read: ‘Imagine a baby’s mouth cut open and blood pouring out, or the inside of their bellies cut and bleeding. You pay, you save them.’
Wright, who claimed he was part of a cohort of dairy farmers angry at the low price they were paid for their milk, signed off his threatening emails and letters ‘Guy Brush & the Dairy Pirates and Tinkerbell the naughty fairy.’
He was eventually arrested on February 25 this year following an investigation led by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit with the help of the National Crime Agency.
Involving more than 100 police officers, it is thought to be the UK’s biggest ever blackmail probe. At one stage there were in excess of 30 officers watching CCTV footage on day and night shifts.
At the Old Bailey, where Wright was sentenced today, judge Justice Warby said Wright had been ‘remorseless’ and ‘clearly revelling in the process’.
The court previously heard how two mothers were just moments away from feeding their children the metal-laced baby food.
The court heard Morven Smith was feeding her 10-month-old son a jar of Heinz sweet and sour chicken baby food in December 2019 when she noticed fragments of a craft knife blade.
Wright contaminated the jar with the blades before depositing it in the store while delivering a car to a buyer on behalf of a neighbour.
Wright contaminated the jar with the blades before depositing it in the store while delivering a car to a buyer on behalf of a neighbour
A total of 42,000 jars of Heinz baby food were recovered, although there is no evidence that any more had been tampered with
The discovery prompted Tesco to issue a national product recall of all jars of the product and to remove all its remaining stock from its shelves.
Following the recall, Harprett Kaur Singh told the chain she too had discovered fragments of metal when she was feeding her nine-month-old daughter a jar of Heinz Sunday chicken dinner.
One of the emails sent by Wright to the officer posing as Tesco worker’ Sam Scott’
One of the emails sent by Wright to the officer posing as Tesco worker’ Sam Scott’ read:
‘Dear Sam, we have been polite and courteous as we recognise you’re just an employee who goes home at the end of the day*
‘We say you pay us then we will email you.
‘It appears we both failed to do what we said we would.
‘If you set up a bank account you can purchase bitcoin and transfer them into our account.
‘As a goodwill gesture we will tell you you have eight jars of Cow & Gate baby food left on your supermarket shelves on Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 [January] there were only six jars left so only six potential dead babies.’
Ms Singh threw the jar away, the jury heard, but a few days later she found more pieces of metal in a jar of cheese and tomato pasta stars.
Wright triggered two nationwide recalls on both Cow & Gate and Heinz baby food as a result of his threats, prompting the supermarket to clear 140,000 products from the shelves.
Of those, a total of 42,000 jars of Heinz baby food were recovered, although there is no evidence that any more had been tampered with.
The total cost to Tesco of the recall, refunds and investigation was an estimated £2.7million.
He was eventually caught after a detective posed as a Tesco employee named Sam Scott and handed over £100,000 in the crypto-currency to trap the blackmailer.
The officer transferred Wright one unit of the cryptocurrency – approximately £8,804 – into an online bank account, jurors heard.
The force had sent him a total of £100,000 worth of bitcoin by the end of their undercover operation.
Alongside the police, the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, Public Health England, Public Health Scotland and Police Scotland were all involved in the probe – named Operation Hancock.
Wright denied 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.
The farmer accepted he had sent the threats, but claimed he did so under duress from travellers who visited his caravan and told him they would kill his children and rape his wife.
The court was shown CCTV footage of Nigel Wright in a Tesco branch in Lockerbie, the same branch one mother purchased Heinz baby food and found metal fragments inside
But in August, after deliberating for four hours and 33 minutes, jurors at the Old Bailey found Wright guilty 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 convicted of a further charge of blackmail for allegedly demanding £150,000 worth of bitcoin from a driver with whom he had had a road rage altercation.
Following the incident on the A46, the driver withdrew his complaint after receiving a ‘nasty anonymous letter’.
He was sentenced to 14 years in prison today, 11 years for the plot against Tesco, with a further three years for the anonymous letter sent to the driver.
At his sentencing hearing on Monday, Mr Justice Warby compared Wright’s actions to terrorism, saying: ‘Here, the fear that you relied on when you blackmailed Tesco was that babies would be caused serious injury by eating food contaminated with sharp pieces of metal.’
He said: ‘You were under no pressure from others, or from circumstances.
‘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.
‘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.’
Hertfordshire Assistant Chief Constable Bill Jephson, who led the inquiry into Nigel Wright’s blackmail plot, said: ‘I hope that the lengthy sentence handed down to Wright today acts as a deterrent to anyone who thinks blackmail is a viable criminal option.
‘The police investigation was supported by a range of specialist government departments as well as the victim companies, who were highly responsive and operationally supportive.
‘The resources available to law enforcement to respond to threats of this nature are significant and such crimes will simply not be tolerated.
‘I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to all those who played a part in bringing Wright to justice.’
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.