Sunday 22 September 2019

Woman (50) is charged over needles in fruit scare

The crisis meant tonnes of strawberries were dumped or went to waste. Stock image
The crisis meant tonnes of strawberries were dumped or went to waste. Stock image

Alan Martin

A 50-year-old woman has been charged over an Australia-wide alert caused by fresh fruit being spiked with sharp needles.

Authorities in all six of the country's states were investigating the tampering that has led to needles or pins being found in strawberries, apples and bananas.

The crisis meant tonnes of strawberries were dumped or went to waste, threatening the future of the multi-million-­dollar industry.

It also led to harsher penalties being rushed through federal parliament for those caught tampering with food.

The woman, who is understood to be from Queensland, has been charged with seven counts of contamination of goods, which has a three-year maximum jail term.

Police say they will claim "aggravation", raising the maximum to 10 years.

Punnets of strawberries contaminated with needles were first found in Queensland in September, and a public alert was issued.

A reward of A$100,000 (€64,000) was offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

Last month, a man was taken to hospital after swallowing fragments of a needle and experiencing "severe abdominal pain".

A nine-year-old boy had a lucky escape when he spat out a needle while eating a strawberry at school.

Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker, from the drug and serious crime group, described the investigation as "major and unprecedented".

He said: "The Queensland Police Service has allocated a significant amount of resources to ensure those responsible are brought to justice."

Government, police and intelligence agency officers were all involved.

A police taskforce was established with detectives from various districts in the state of Queensland.

"While the investigation is far from over, I would like to acknowledge the tireless effort of our investigators as well as members from all other agencies across Australia who played a role," said Det Supt Wacker.

"I would also like to thank those within the strawberry industry for their co-operation and members of the public who assisted us with our enquiries."

The accused woman is due to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court tomorrow.

Social media users speculated on whether the motive was terrorism or targeting the farmer's income. Some believe the woman's actions sparked copycat attacks.

Irish Independent

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