Farmer guilty over Tesco baby food blackmail plot

A sheep farmer has been found guilty of planting baby food laced with shards of metal in stores as part of a lengthy blackmail campaign against Tesco.

Nigel Wright, 45, hatched a plot to get rich by deliberately contaminating jars of Heinz baby food between May 2018 and February 2020, the Old Bailey heard.

He sent dozens of letters and emails to the supermarket giant in a bid to extort £1.4 million in bitcoin, jurors were told.

In one draft note, he wrote: "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."

The jar of Heinz baby food that was allegedly laced with fragments of a craft knife by Nigel Wright
The jar of Heinz baby food that was allegedly laced with fragments of a craft knife by Nigel Wright

Wright, who signed off as the fictional character "Guy Brush" and "the Dairy Pirates", claimed to be part of a cohort of farmers angry at the low price they were paid for their milk.

Tesco was forced to issue a product recall when a mother from Lockerbie discovered pieces of metal in a jar of Heinz sweet and sour chicken baby food.

In December 2019, Morven Smith had already fed a few spoonfuls to her 10-month-old baby when she spotted "something shiny" in the bowl and pulled it out.

She said: "It was horrendous. I felt sick I was so shocked."

Wright was caught on CCTV placing the tampered jar on a Tesco shelf before leaving with flowers for his primary school teacher wife, a bottle of wine, and more jars of baby food.

Nigel Wright court case
Nigel Wright court case

A second mother later came forward in Rochdale to say she too had discovered metal while feeding her nine-month-old daughter.

Harpreet Kaur-Singh told Tesco she had found shards of metal in a jar of Heinz Sunday chicken dinner and a jar of cheesy pasta stars.

Mrs Kaur-Singh said in her evidence that at the time she had not thought anything of it, but that she had binned the two jars and her remaining stock of baby food as a precaution.

In all, 42,000 jars of Heinz baby food were recovered, although there is no evidence that any more had been tampered with.

When Wright was tracked down to his family home outside Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, police found photographs of contaminated baby food on his laptop – with some the same flavour as the Rochdale jars.

The labels were clearly visible, and two of the jars – the cheese and tomato pasta stars and Sunday chicken dinner – were open with pieces of metal placed inside, the jury was told.

Officers also recovered some £100,000 in bitcoin which had been sent by undercover officers during the investigation.

Nigel Wright court case
Nigel Wright court case

Giving evidence, Wright admitted planting one contaminated jar in the Lockerbie store but denied tampering with stock in Rochdale.

He claimed he was forced into it by travellers who had threatened to rape his wife and hang his children "from the trees".

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."

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".

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".