SYDNEY – An Australian woman has been charged for allegedly hiding sewing needles inside strawberries bound for supermarkets across the country in a bizarre crime that left a number of people hospitalized and sparked a string of copycat incidents.
Following “a complex investigation” involving multiple government, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, police in the eastern state of Queensland arrested the 50-year-old Sunday afternoon local time and charged her with seven counts of contamination of goods, which has a three-year imprisonment maximum penalty.
A circumstance of aggravation will be alleged by police, bumping the penalty up to the maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
She is due to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday.
The Courier-Mail reports the woman worked at the Berrylicious/Berry Obsession farm in Queensland as a supervisor.
She was believed to have had grievances about her treatment at the farm and police will allege she had told people about exacting revenge.
According to the report, she was arrested after her DNA was allegedly found in a contaminated punnet of strawberries in a supermarket in the southern state of Victoria.
The first discovery of contaminated strawberries was first announced by Queensland police in early September, and triggered a spate of copycat incidents across the country.
By mid-September, major Australian supermarkets had begun removing strawberries and needles from sales.
“This is a major and unprecedented police investigation with a lot of complexities involved,” Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker from the Drug and Serious Crime Group said.
“The Queensland Police Service has allocated a significant amount of resources to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.
“While the investigation is far from over, I would like to acknowledge the tireless effort of our investigators as well as members from all other agencies across Australia who played a role.
“I would also like to thank those within the strawberry industry for their cooperation and members of the public who assisted us with our inquiries.”
The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association have also congratulated Queensland Police for their efforts.
“Given the crippling impact on the Queensland strawberry growers industry, this person should be brought to account to the full extent of the law,” QSGA said.