A Lincolnshire farmer has been jailed for 14 years after contaminating baby food with metal as part of a £1.4 million bitcoin scheme where he tried blackmailing Tesco.
Father-of-two Nigel Wright, 45, from Market Rasen tried to extort £1.4 million from the supermarket chain between May 2018 and February 2020.
In 2018, he placed shards of metal inside three jars of baby food which ended up in two Tesco stores, and demanded bitcoin from the chain to reveal where the dangerous products were placed.
The metal shards were spotted by two mothers who were only moments away from giving the food to their children.
During the investigation products were urgently recalled and in total 42,000 jars of Heinz baby food were recovered. There was no evidence that further jars had been tampered with.
Wright was unanimously convicted by a jury following a nine-day trial at London’s Old Bailey on August 20. He was found guilty of three counts of blackmail and two counts of product contamination.
He was also convicted for an unrelated offence of blackmail linked to a traffic dispute.
He tracked down a man he had been in a road rage incident with and sent him a threatening letter attempting to blackmail him into handing over £150,000 worth of bitcoin, threatening to kill him and his wife and children if he did not comply.
The court heard how he selected jars of Heinz baby food from Tesco supermarket shelves, took them home and set about contaminating them with metal shards.
He then returned a small number of the jars to stores and threatened that babies would be seriously or fatally injured unless he was paid.
During the trial Wright tried to convince the jury that he had been forced to carry out the baby food blackmail plot by travellers who were threatening him.
However, he was unable to provide any evidence to support what Hertfordshire Constabulary described as “his elaborate lie”.
His blackmail plot involved three victim companies – Tesco, Heinz and Cow & Gate.
Wright has since been sentenced to 11 years for his plot against Tesco and a further three years to run consecutively for the road rage blackmail charge.
He must serve at least half of his sentence in custody before being released on licence.
His Honour Justice Warby said: “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.
“You were prepared to and did put vulnerable children at risk of serious injury. The offending caused shock, distress and expense, but mercilessly did not cause injury but that was down to luck rather than good judgement.”
The major investigation was led by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit who were assisted by law enforcement partners including the National Crime Agency together with the victim companies.
The investigation – Operation Hancock – was the largest blackmail inquiry every conducted in the UK.
Hertfordshire Assistant Chief Constable Bill Jephson, who led the inquiry, added: “I hope that the lengthy sentence handed down to Wright today acts as a deterrent to anyone who thinks blackmail is a viable criminal option.
“The police investigation was supported by a range of specialist government departments as well as the victim companies, who were highly responsive and operationally supportive.
“The resources available to law enforcement to respond to threats of this nature are significant and such crimes will simply not be tolerated.
“I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to all those who played a part in bringing Wright to justice.”