A sheep farmer tried to extort £1.4m in cryptocurrency from Tesco by putting shards of metal into baby food, a court has heard.
Nigel Wright, 45, is also accused of sending letters in which he threatened to inject salmonella into tins of food and demanding £1.4 million-worth of Bitcoin from the supermarket in order to reveal what goods were contaminated.
The baby food was bought by two mothers who later discovered tiny metal objects before feeding their children, the Old Bailey heard.
There is no evidence that any other products other than the two jars of metal-spiked baby food discovered were actually contaminated, jurors were told.
The prosecution alleges that Wright, under the pseudonym Guy Brush, sent letters to different Tesco stores claiming he was acting with a group of people called the “Dairy Pirates”, and sometimes saying he was joined with a “Tinkerbell”.
He also sent emails saying contaminated food had been put on shelves in Tesco stores and would release the details after a ransom was paid, which rose to 200 Bitcoin, about £1.4 million in February 2020 – otherwise, the campaign would continue, jurors were told.
The contamination was said to be salmonella but this became sharp pieces of metal inserted into baby food jars, the court heard.
The first letter, received in May 2018, at a Tesco store in North Lincolnshire, included a complaint about dairy farmers feeling they were not being paid fairly for milk, jurors heard.
Four more shops received the same letter in December 2018 and the Tesco head office in Welwyn Garden City received one that contained white powder, the court heard.
Chemical analysis found the powder to be a mix of aluminium silicate and lactose powder – both harmless, the court was told.
However, in November and December 2019, two Tesco customers shopping in Rochdale and Lockerbie, Scotland, bought jars of baby food and found small sharp pieces of metal as they were set to feed their children, who were less than a year old.
Wright is also accused of threatening a motorist he had an altercation with during a road incident.
After initially taking no action, Wright went on to threaten to kill the man and members of his family if he was not paid 10 Bitcoin, which would rise to 20 (about £150,000) if not paid within two weeks, the jury was told.
He sent a picture of the man with a target on it and holes in the paper, the Old Bailey heard. Wright denies that charge.
In total, he is charged with four counts of blackmail and two of contaminating food “with menaces” between May 2018 and February 2020.
Wright, who works a farm with 120 sheep in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, denies the allegations.
Julian Christopher QC, prosecuting, said: “There is no evidence that he did actually inject any salmonella, or make use of the white powder, but the prosecution do allege that he did indeed contaminate some jars of baby food with sharp pieces of metal and that the jars were bought by two different mothers from two different locations, each of whom discovered the metal as she was feeding the food to her child.
“He [Wright] stated that a dremel drill had been used to create a small hole in cans containing fruit, and bacteria had been injected, and the suggestion was that the cans had then been placed in stores in Hull, York and Scunthorpe – all places large enough to be likely to have a number of Tesco stores.”
Christopher also told the jury Wright admits he sent the threatening letters to Tesco, but was forced to do so by a group of Travellers who said they could attack his family if he did not pay them £1 million.
The prosecutor told the jury Wright claims “the Travellers who were threatening to kill him gave him this jar, already contaminated, along with several others which he threw away, and that he did not realise how small, and so difficult to see, the pieces of metal inside it were.
“The prosecution suggests this is a story he concocted and is untrue.”
Tesco contacted police after the first letter and undercover officers, posing at Tesco employees, transferred 13.9 in Bitcoin to two wallets used by Wright, the court heard.
He was arrested and had a piece of paper on him that had details of how to access the transferred funds, and a phone linked to a cryptocurrency wallet was found in his car, jurors were told.
His laptop contained threats to Tesco and photos of food tins and baby food jars were found on his laptop while a dremel drill was found on Wright’s farm, the court heard.
The trial continues.