A man who put metal in some jars of baby food in the United Kingdom has been jailed for 14 years.

Nigel Wright, a father of two, was convicted of blackmail and contaminating baby food by a jury following a nine-day trial in August at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, also known as the Old Bailey.

The court heard how the 45-year-old took home jars of Heinz baby food from Tesco supermarket shelves and contaminated them with metal shards between May 2018 and February 2020. He then returned a small number of these jars to stores and threatened that babies would be injured unless he was paid £1.5 million ($1.96 million) in bitcoin — an online currency that would allow him to remain anonymous. The plot involved Tesco, Heinz and Cow & Gate.

Findings of metal in baby food
During the investigation, products were recalled and 42,000 jars of baby food were recovered. Heinz and Tesco removed all of the” 7+ months Heinz By Nature” baby food range. Cow & Gate and Tesco recalled 15 varieties of “7+ month Cow & Gate” baby food.

Nigel Wright <i>Photo courtesy ofHertfordshire Constabulary

In mid-December 2019, a mother in Lockerbie found small knife fragments in baby food she was about to give her child. A family in Rochdale also reported throwing out two tins of baby food containing metal.

Wright, from Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, was found guilty of three counts of blackmail and two of product contamination. The sheep farmer said he had been forced to carry out the blackmail plot by travelers who were threatening him but was unable to provide supporting evidence.

Judge Justice Warby described Wright’s motive as “grubby financial gain”.

“The greatest mitigation you could have given was a guilty plea, instead you put forward an absurd and untenable case that fell apart under scrutiny. The offending caused shock, distress and expense, but mercilessly did not cause injury but that was down to luck rather than good judgement,” he said.

For the blackmail and contamination offences relating to Tesco, Heinz, and Cow & Gate, Wright was jailed for 11 years. He was also convicted of an unrelated offence of blackmail linked to a traffic dispute. For this incident, Wright was jailed for three years, to run consecutively. He must serve at least half of the sentence in custody before being released on license.

Multi-agency investigation
Operation Hancock was supported by the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, Public Health England, Public Health Scotland and Police Scotland. It was led by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit.

Detective Inspector Lucy Thomson, from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, said: “Wright is a dangerous offender who gave no thought to the babies he could have harmed during his callous pursuit of money. He concocted an elaborate tale to try and cover his tracks, claiming he was being forced to carry out his crimes.”

Jim Stokley, deputy director of the National Crime Agency’s National Cyber Crime Unit, said the sentence sends a message that serious criminality will be pursued to protect the public and businesses.

“The contamination of baby food products resulted in a comprehensive, whole-system response from UK law enforcement; partners from across local, regional and national policing collaborated to identify and arrest Wright.”

Hertfordshire Assistant Chief Constable Bill Jephson, who led the inquiry, said he hoped the sentence handed down acted as a deterrent for anyone who thinks blackmail is a viable criminal option.

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