Farmer guilty of contaminating baby food in £1.5m blackmail plot

A farmer has been found guilty of contaminating baby food as part of a £1.5 million bitcoin extortion scheme following the largest blackmail inquiry ever conducted in the UK.

Aug 21, 2020
By Paul Jacques
Nigel Wright

Forty-five-year-old Nigel Wright from Lincolnshire was yesterday (August 20) convicted of blackmail and contaminating specific ranges of baby food with shards of metal following a nine-day trial at The Old Bailey.

Wright was remanded back into custody for sentencing on Monday, September 28, after a jury found him guilty of three counts of blackmail and two counts of product contamination. The case involved three victim companies – Tesco, Heinz and Cow & Gate. Wright was also convicted of an unrelated offence of blackmail linked to a traffic dispute.

He was arrested on February 25, 2020, following a major investigation led by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, which was assisted by law enforcement partners including the National Crime Agency together with the victim companies.

Stretching across the country, Operation Hancock was also supported by specialist government departments – The Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, Public Health England, Public Health Scotland and Police Scotland.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Wright began threatening Tesco in spring 2018, writing to his local store in Lincolnshire and warning that unless they paid him £750,000 worth of bitcoin – an online currency that would allow him to remain anonymous – he would contaminate the food on their shelves.

The CPS added: “Under the pseudonym ‘Guy Brush’, Wright demanded larger sums of money, telling Tesco that he would also contaminate jars with salmonella, white powder and knives.

“However, on December 13, 2019, it was clear that Wright’s activity had escalated, as a mum in Lockerbie discovered small knife fragments in the baby food she was about to give her child.

“When a nationwide recall was issued, a family in Rochdale also contacted the company saying they had thrown out two tins of baby food which had contained metal.”

Led by Hertfordshire Constabulary Assistant Chief Constable Bill Jephson, Operation Hancock has been the largest blackmail inquiry ever conducted in the UK.

“Throughout this investigation, our key focus was to safeguard the public and identify the individual or group involved as they clearly had no concern for the impact of their actions,” said Mr Jephson.

“I want to extend my sincere thanks to all those officers, specialist law enforcement units and agencies who gave of their best in what was often a fast-moving and challenging investigation where no stone was left unturned. This was truly a partnership response, which also involved close collaboration with the victim companies who were highly responsive and operationally supportive throughout.”

He added: “Through the determined efforts of so many dedicated professionals, a dangerous offender is now facing the justice he deserves. I hope the conviction of Nigel Wright will serve as a deterrent to anyone who thinks blackmail is a viable criminal option. The resources available to law enforcement to respond to threats of this nature are significant as crimes like this will simply not be tolerated.”

Charles White, Senior Crown Prosecutor in CPS Thames and Chiltern, said: “Wright demanded an extraordinary amount of money – and was so determined to secure it that he was prepared to contaminate baby food and place it on a supermarket shelf.

“It is a testament to the vigilance of parents and the swift action taken by the victim companies, police and other agencies that the public were kept safe.

“He created an elaborate lie saying that he himself was blackmailed, but it is clear Wright was the only person responsible for potentially putting the public’s safety at risk.

“From his laptop, to the images he had taken of the contaminated food and the bitcoin access code found when he was arrested, there was a wealth of evidence in this case which proved his guilt to the jury.”

When arrested, Wright told police that he had been threatened to carry out the extortion by some people who had said they would harm his family if he did not.

The CPS said prosecution was able to prove that there was no evidence to support Wright’s lies. Instead, Hertfordshire Constabulary found “a wealth of material” which pointed to the fact Wright had acted alone.

A laptop was discovered in his Toyota, which had draft copies of the extortion letters on them, as well as access to the email account that ‘Guy Brush’ had used to communicate with Tesco.

Wright was found to have carried out a number of searches online including ‘tesco tampered’ and ‘boy autopsy’ and had read an article about the recall of the baby food products.

The court was shown photographs Wright had taken of the contaminated jars, positioned next to small knives and with small, green markings on the base of the jar.

As the blackmail continued, an officer pretended to be a Tesco employee and provided Wright with an access code for the £100,000 worth of bitcoin.

The CPS said the case against Wright was clear as when he was traced and arrested, he was found with a copy of this access code written on a piece of paper.

Mr White added: “He created an elaborate lie saying that he himself was blackmailed, but it is clear Wright was the only person responsible for potentially putting the public’s safety at risk.”

Related News

Copyright © 2022 Police Professional