Two mothers have described nearly feeding their babies food contaminated with shards of metal allegedly placed there by a sheep farmer as part of a plot to extort £1.4m in cryptocurrency from Tesco.
Nigel Wright, a 45-year-old from Rochdale, is accused of bombarding the supermarket chain for nearly two years with letters and emails claiming he would only reveal the stores in which he had planted poisoned and dangerous goods if he was transferred 200 bitcoins.
He allegedly claimed to be part of a cohort of farmers angry at being underpaid by Tesco, signing off his threats as “Guy Brush and the Dairy Pirates”, but now claims travellers had threatened to kill him and his family unless he paid them £1m.
The sheep farmer admits planting baby food laced with metal in a Scottish store, but denies doing so in Greater Manchester – the two locations where mothers discovered such products.
The Old Bailey heard on Tuesday that Harpreet Kaur-Singh, from Rochdale, had been preparing to give her nine-month-old daughter her dinner in December 2019 when she noticed “metal chippings” in the food.
Giving evidence via video link, Ms Kaur-Singh said she had tipped the contents of a Heinz Sunday chicken dinner into a bowl and was preparing to microwave it when she saw the slivers of metal.
“I didn’t think anything of it and just binned it,” she told the court.
She later found more metal in a jar of Heinz pasta stars.
“I showed it to my husband and he said ‘it’s metal chippings’ so I binned it and binned all the [baby] food,” she said, adding: “It was like shredded chippings of metal – my husband is a construction worker and he saw the metal and knew it was metal.”
Ms Kaur-Singh did not contact Tesco until she heard about a product recall for all Heinz baby food – some 42,000 jars – after a mother in Dumfries and Galloway discovered a similarly contaminated product.
Morven Smith, of Lockerbie, had been feeding her 10-month-old son a jar of Heinz sweet and sour chicken baby food in December 2019 when she spotted slivers of craft knife blade in the jar.
“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,” Ms Smith said. “It was horrendous. I felt sick I was so shocked.”
Ms Smith said her husband found a second blade stuck at the bottom of the jar.
“I didn’t think someone might have done this on purpose,” she said, adding that at first she had only planned to contact Heinz and Tesco.
But upon wrapping the jar and the blades in a freezer bag, 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.”
Mr Wright is accused of contaminating the jar with the blades, and of depositing it in a Tesco in the Scottish town while delivering a tractor to a buyer on behalf of his neighbour.
Ms Kaur-Singh said she did not notice any similar mark on the contaminated jars she bought in Rochdale.
There is no evidence to suggest that there were other jars containing metal except for the three discovered, but further letters from Mr Wright to Tesco relating to Cow & Gate baby food resulted in 140,000 units of the firm’s products being withdrawn from Tesco shelves.
Mr Wright denies two counts of contaminating goods and three counts of blackmail against Tesco.
He faces a further charge of blackmail for allegedly threatening to kill a driver during a road-rage altercation unless he paid him £150,000 worth of bitcoin.
Mr Wright allegedly tracked the motorist down and sent him a letter including a picture of the complainant and his wife with bullet holes and a target superimposed on it, the court heard on Monday.
The defendant was traced to his family home on a farm outside Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. Drafts of messages sent to Tesco were found on his laptop, along with photos of tins of food and jars of baby food and slivers of metal.
While he admits carrying out various aspects of the campaign, including planting metal-laced food in Lockerbie, he claims to have been acting in fear of his life after travellers came to his land demanding £1m.
He alleges the group of men threatened to rape his wife and kill him and his two children.
But the prosecution alleges that “over a period of two years from spring 2018, the defendant hoped to make himself rich by means of blackmail”.
“You the jury will have to determine whether his story of being threatened by travellers is true,” prosecutor Julian Christopher said on Monday.
“The prosecution suggest that it changes whenever he is confronted with more evidence which he has to explain, and is completely untrue,” he added.
The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, continues.
Additional reporting by PA