How a speeding fine sparked nation of fruit saboteurs
A POLICE officer who investigated a spate of strawberries being contaminated with sewing needles said the incident, initially triggered by a speeding fine, sparked hundreds of copy cat cases across the country.
Former strawberry farm picking manager My Ut Trinh, 52, faced a committal hearing in the Brisbane Magistrates Court today over the 2018 incident which crippled the agriculture industry and forced the government to introduce tough new penalties for food contamination.
A senior investigator on the case Detective Sergeant Gary Perrett gave evidence that Trinh was linked to the sabotage after her DNA was allegedly discovered on a sewing needle found on a strawberry.
But under cross examination from Trinh's defence barrister Terry Morgans, Det Sgt Perrett conceded the case against the Vietnamese refugee was circumstantial.
Police allege Trinh, who worked for the Berrylicious/Berry Obsession farm in southeast Queensland, contaminated the strawberries in September 2018 out of "spite" for her employer over a disagreement about paying for a speeding fine.
Trinh was arrested and charged with six counts of contaminating goods with intent to cause economic loss in November 2018.
The discovery of the needles sparked chaos in the agriculture sector, causing strawberries to be stripped from shelves nationwide and crippling farmers.
The detective today told the court the incident sparked more than 200 "malicious copycat" cases with a number of people caught on supermarket CCTV tampering with fruit.
"There became a media frenzy in relation to all these contaminations and it just went berserk …," Det Sgt Perrett told the court.
The spate of cases also caused the government to enact the Criminal Code Amendment Food Contamination Bill, making the intentional reckless contamination of goods an offence against the Commonwealth and increased the maximum penalty to 15 years imprisonment.
Det Sgt Perrett said DNA had allegedly linked Trinh to the contamination.
"Your client's DNA was on that needle," he said.
The owner of the strawberry farm Kevin Tran was called to the stand and asked to give evidence about his farm's financial position at the time of the contamination.
He agreed the farm had owed more than $200,000 in debt and a text message on his phone from his fruit marketer around the time said strawberry prices had plummeted and were "cactus".
After twice denying he had also been trying to buy a house around the same time, he then agreed he had signed a contract on a home but he backed out when the contamination incident occurred.
The defence also asked Mr Tran about text messages on his phone from August 2018 from an unknown number first saying "it's important" and then "I have valuable information".
Mr Tran said he did not recall what the messages were regarding.
Mr Morgan's also asked about a text message the following day sent to Mr Tran by his wife saying "we need to talk".
The committal hearing was adjourned to next month.