November 25, 2020

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Farmer facing jail for putting metal shards in Tesco baby food is ex-Tory councillor

A sheep farmer who planted jars of baby food laced with razor sharp shards of...

A sheep farmer who planted jars of baby food laced with razor sharp shards of metal on supermarket shelves is a former Conservative councillor, it has emerged.

Nigel Wright was found guilty of trying to extort £1.5 million from Tesco on Thursday in a campaign which led to the UK’s biggest ever blackmail probe.

Wright was the councillor for Freshney ward of North East Lincolnshire Council after winning the seat for the Conservatives in 2003.

He switched allegiances to UKIP before standing for election as an MP in Brigg and Goole in 2010, polling 1,749 votes. 

This is the chilling moment a sheep farmer plants jars of baby food laced with razor sharp shards of metal on supermarket shelves

Wright had previously served as the youngest-ever chairman of the Great Grimsby Conservative Association. 

Footage released by Hertfordshire Constabulary shows the 45-year-old entering a store in Lockerbie, Scotland before approaching the baby food aisle.

After bending down to look at the jars, Wright removes something from his jacket pocket and puts it into his trolley. 

He then appears to fiddle around with items in the trolley before placing multiple jars back on the shelf and leaving the store.

Nigel Wright was today found guilty of blackmailing Tesco for £1.5 million in a campaign which resulted in two mothers finding the dangerous fragments when feeding their children

Nigel Wright was today found guilty of blackmailing Tesco for £1.5 million in a campaign which resulted in two mothers finding the dangerous fragments when feeding their children

Two mothers later found the dangerous metal fragments when feeding their children. 

Married father-of-two Wright, who now faces up to 14 years in jail, also threatened to inject tins of fruit with cyanide and salmonella unless the supermarket giant handed over the cash in Bitcoin.

The threats sparked the largest blackmail operation seen in Britain, with more than 100 officers deployed across the country on the case.

At one stage there were in excess of 30 officers watching CCTV footage on day and night shifts.

Wright signed off his emails and letters ‘Guy Brush & the Dairy Pirates + Tinkerbell the naughty fairy,’ and claimed he represented dairy farmers who had been underpaid by Tesco.

He triggered two nationwide recalls on both Cow & Gate and Heinz baby food as a result of the threats, prompting the supermarket to clear 140,000 products from the shelves.

A detective posed as a Tesco employee named Sam Scott and handed over £100,000 in the crypto-currency to trap the blackmailer.

He was eventually arrested on February 25 of this year following an investigation led by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit with the help of the National Crime Agency.

Also involved were the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, Public Health England, Public Health Scotland and Police Scotland.

A jar of Heinz By Nature baby food that Mr Wright laced with fragments of a craft knife

A jar of Heinz By Nature baby food that Mr Wright laced with fragments of a craft knife

CCTV footage showed Wright in a Tesco store in Lockerbie, where he planted a contaminated jar

CCTV footage showed Wright in a Tesco store in Lockerbie, where he planted a contaminated jar

Assistant Chief Constable Bill Jephson, who led the investigation on behalf of Hertfordshire Constabulary, described it as the ‘most serious and most challenging’ product contamination case ever dealt with in the UK.

Farmer’s campaign to extort £1.5 million in Bitcoin from Tesco by contaminating baby food is largest blackmail probe ever conducted in UK 

Sheep farmer Nigel Wright’s complicated blackmail plot against Tesco saw him plant potentially lethal jars of metal-laced baby food in two of the supermarket’s stores in Lockerbie and Rochdale.

His campaign to extort £1.5 million in cryptocurrency from the chain lasted almost two years and led to Operation Hancock – the largest blackmail investigation ever conducted in the UK.

At various points there were more than 100 officers deployed across the country on the case, and at one stage there were in excess of 30 officers watching CCTV footage on day and night shifts.

Wright was eventually arrested on February 25 of this year following an investigation led by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit with the help of the National Crime Agency.

Also involved were the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, Public Health England, Public Health Scotland and Police Scotland.

Assistant Chief Constable Bill Jephson, who led the investigation on behalf of Hertfordshire Constabulary, described it as the ‘most serious and most challenging’ product contamination case ever dealt with in the UK.

Mr Jephson said there was ‘very significant’ concern over whether there were more contaminated jars of baby food, adding that he is confident everything that needed to be removed from the shelves was removed.

Deputy Senior Investigating Officer Lucy Thomson said: ‘He’s clearly a man with some significant knowledge and understanding of how the internet works, and unfortunately put the understanding and knowledge to such negative purposes, which is a great shame.

‘But in terms of his motivation, he’s the only person who will ever truly know why he did what he did and put so many people at risk, including his family, and their livelihood.’

She said his knowledge and understanding of how to manipulate cryptocurrency was ‘effective’.

Ms Thomson said Wright’s defence that he was being threatened by travellers changed throughout and he did not maintain any consistency with that defence.

‘We haven’t uncovered any evidence that supports that defence,’ she said, adding that inquiries were ‘extensive’.

Ms Thomson said cases like this are ‘incredibly scarce’, adding: ‘I’ve never investigated a crime like this or been involved in an investigation of this breadth and severity.’

She described what Wright did as ‘absolutely disgraceful’, adding: ‘I think his crime was absolutely horrific and of the most cynical nature, putting babies at risk, and mothers, feeding their children.

‘I don’t think it gets much worse.’

Mr Jephson said: ‘He should be absolutely ashamed of what he has done and I hope he gets the justice that he deserves.’

Wright was caught on CCTV buying wine and flowers for his wife after placing a contaminated jar on the shelves of a Lockerbie branch on November 29 last year.

He also placed two jars of contaminated food on the shelves of a Rochdale shop.

Scottish mother Morven Smith ‘felt sick’ when she spotted the shards in a jar of Heinz sweet and sour chicken her ten-month-old son was eating.

Mrs Smith, from Lockerbie, had already fed a few spoonfuls to her baby when she spotted a shard of metal in the bowl in December 2019.

She said: ‘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.’

Her husband found a second piece of metal at the bottom of the jar.

The incident led to a nationwide recall of 42,000 tins of the product.

A second mother, Harpreet Kaur Singh found ‘shredded chippings of metal’ in jars of Heinz Sunday Chicken Dinner and Cheese and Tomato Pasta Stars.

She wept as she told the court how she had been moments away from feeding them to her nine-month-old daughter.

‘I put it into a bowl and when I went to microwave it there was a metal chipping in there and at first I didn’t think anything of it. I binned it,’ the mother said.

‘But then [on a separate occasion] I opened a second jar, Heinz Cheese and Tomato Pasta Stars.

‘Again I saw the metal chippings inside it.’

Prosecutor Julian Christopher, QC, said the blackmailer took ‘delight’ in his extravagant plan to outsmart the supermarket giant.

He believed he could ‘get rich’ without leaving any trace of his identity by using the bitcoin cryptocurrency and downloading the browser Tor allowing for anonymous communication.

But his emails and letters were forwarded onto police and he was soon unwittingly interacting with an undercover officer.

A draft of an email to Tesco was found on one of Wright’s devices after his property was searched.

The threat 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.’

Reading excerpts of emails sent by Wright, the prosecutor said: ‘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.’

Wright admitted sending the emails and letters to Tesco demanding the money but told jurors he was forced to by a gang of gypsies.

He claimed the travellers had come to his farm and threatened to kill his children and rape his wife unless he paid them £500,000.

Asked why he ordered the company to pay him triple that amount, Wright said: ‘I’d seen somewhere that ransoms are never paid in full, only half are paid.’

He said that he had been handed the contaminated jars by one of his alleged handlers, who followed him to the Lockerbie store in a BMW to make sure he carried out their orders.

But he admitted his threats to the company had been inspired by his own research, watching documentaries and searching for ideas on Google.

The farmer told jurors he had also experimented with tampering with jars himself, while maintaining he had only done so because he was ‘curious’ to see if his threats had been ‘idle.’

Pictured: Nigel Wright's workshop. Assistant Chief Constable Bill Jephson, who led the investigation on behalf of Hertfordshire Constabulary, described it as the 'most serious and most challenging' product contamination case ever dealt with in the UK'

Pictured: Nigel Wright’s workshop. Assistant Chief Constable Bill Jephson, who led the investigation on behalf of Hertfordshire Constabulary, described it as the ‘most serious and most challenging’ product contamination case ever dealt with in the UK’

The Tesco store in Lockerbie where the contaminated jar was discovered and a national product recall was issued

The Tesco store in Lockerbie where the contaminated jar was discovered and a national product recall was issued

Asked why he had failed to tell police about the travellers, Wright claimed: ‘I’ve been to police in the past and they’ve failed me.’

He complained that the stress of the blackmail campaign had landed him in marriage counselling with his primary schoolteacher spouse.

Tearfully, Wright told jurors: ‘My wife would have been really scared.

‘If I’d told her she would have probably gone to the police and I would have got into trouble.

‘I was on edge this whole time.

‘I should never have got involved and I should have gone to the police.’

But prosecutor Julian Christopher QC told him: ‘The truth is you were not in fear at all.

‘You were carrying on your life normally while hoping to make yourself rich by threatening Tesco in this way while endangering the life of others in the process.’

The Tesco store in Rochdale where Wright planted more contaminated baby food

The Tesco store in Rochdale where Wright planted more contaminated baby food

A jury deliberated for four hours and 33 minutes to find 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’.

Wright stood in silence as the guilty verdicts were announced.

Wright, of Pine Meadows, Caistor Road, Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, had denied two counts of contaminating goods and four counts of blackmail.

The maximum term for blackmail is 14 years while the maximum for contaminating goods is 10 years.

Mr Justice Warby listed the case for sentence on September 28 and asked for a psychiatric report on Wright to be prepared ahead of the hearing.

He warned the defendant he faced a ‘lengthy custodial sentence’. 

Nigel Wright was today found guilty of blackmailing Tesco for £1.5 million in a campaign which resulted in two mothers finding the dangerous fragments when feeding their children

Nigel Wright was today found guilty of blackmailing Tesco for £1.5 million in a campaign which resulted in two mothers finding the dangerous fragments when feeding their children 

The current Conservative leader of North East Lincolnshire Council, Cllr Philip Jackson told GrimsbyLive: ‘Clearly what he has done is wrong and I would not defend anything he has done, not for a moment.’

Wright was 28 when he was elected to the council with fellow Tory Peter Bellini in May 2003.

He campaigned for improved flood defences in 2007 after his farm in Healing, Lincolnshire, suffered crop damage worth thousands of pounds.

Wright lost his Freshney seat in May 2006 before unsuccessfully standing for the Conservatives in Heneage in May 2007.