Two mothers were just moments away from feeding their infants baby food laced with fragments of a craft knife blade following an alleged blackmail plot against Tesco by a Lincolnshire farmer, a court has heard.
Nigel Wright, 45, is on trial at the Old Bailey for allegedly trying to extort £1.4 million in bitcoin from the supermarket chain by planting contaminated goods in its stores between May 2018 and February 2020.
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 the shards of metal.
Wright is accused of contaminating the jar with the blades, and of depositing it in the store while delivering a car to a buyer on behalf of a neighbour.
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.
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.
A total of 42,000 jars of Heinz baby food were recovered, although there is no evidence that any more had been tampered with.
Wright denies 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 faces 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.
When he was tracked down to his family home outside Market Rasen, police found photographs of the contaminated baby food on his laptop, the court heard.
The labels were clearly visible, and two of the jars – the cheese and tomato pasta stars and Sunday chicken dinner – are open with pieces of metal placed inside, the jury was told.
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 claimed to be part of a cohort of dairy farmers angry at the low price they were paid for their milk, and he signed off his letters “Guy Brush and the Dairy Pirates”, the court heard.
In other letters, Wright claimed to have spiked canned food with salmonella and other chemicals – although there is no evidence to show he actually did this.
The court heard he also threatened to start poisoning goods with prussic acid – otherwise known as hydrogen cyanide.
Wright admits carrying out various elements of the campaign but claims he was forced to do so by travellers who had come to his land and threatened to kill him unless he gave them £1 million.
He denies planting the shards of metal in the baby food found in the Rochdale branch of Tesco.
Prosecutor Julian Christopher QC said through his letters Wright was playing “cat and mouse” with the supermarket chain.
He added: “The jury may think (the letters) indicate that the blackmailer was rather enjoying the game, rather than acting in fear of his life.”
The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, continues.