Strawberry needle contamination: Australian police arrest woman over spiked fruit

Police charge suspect after alert led to tonnes of fruit being dumped

Jane Dalton@JournoJane
Sunday 11 November 2018 18:13
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A woman has been charged after the nationwide alert over fruit laced with needles
A woman has been charged after the nationwide alert over fruit laced with needles

A 50-year-old woman has been charged over an Australia-wide alert caused by fresh fruit being spiked with 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, 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 (£56,000) was offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

A man was taken to hospital after swallowing fragments of a needle and experiencing “severe abdominal pain”, and a nine-year-old boy 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 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.

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“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 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.

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