A farmer launched a blackmail campaign against Tesco by putting shards of metal into baby food, a court heard on Tuesday writes Chris Dyer.

Nigel Wright, 45, also sent letters threatening to inject salmonella into tins of food, the court was told.

The farmer is accused of demanding around £1.5million in Bitcoin by sending letters to the supermarket giant in order for him to reveal what goods had been contaminated.

Wright, of Market Rasen, Lincs, is alleged to have placed bits of metal in jars of baby food and put them on shelves of stores in Rockdale and Lockerbie in Scotland.

Two mums later discovered tiny metal objects in baby food they were about to give to their children, the court heard.

Wright is also accused of threatening a motorist, John Winter, who he had an altercation with in a road rage incident, again demanding Bitcoin or he would kill members of his family, the court heard.

He is charged with four counts of blackmail and two of contaminating food "with menaces" between May 2018 and February this year.

Wright denies the allegations and claims a gang of Travellers forced him to carry out the crimes by threatening his own family if he did not pay them around £1m.

Under the name "Guy Brush" Wright launched a blackmail campaign by sending letters through the post to many different Tesco stores, the Old Bailey heard.

He pretended he was acting with other people, whom he referred to as "the Dairy Pirates", and later also claimed to have been joined by someone he referred to as "Tinkerbell", the prosecution alleged.

Wright also sent emails claiming that contaminated food had been put on the shelves of numerous Tesco stores, demanding to release the details of the threat only after payment of bitcoin was received, the jury were told.

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He threatened to continue the campaign until he was paid, the court heard.

Initially the contamination was said to be salmonella injected into cans, but this later became sharp pieces of metal inserted into jars of baby food, it was alleged.

Wright was demanding 100 bitcoin from Tescos - now worth around £750,000 - though this went up to 150, and then to 200 bitcoin, around £1.5m.

From Mr Winter he demanded ten bitcoin, which he said would go up to 20 - or roughly £150,000 - if not paid within a fortnight after their altercation near Newark, Nottinghamshire, in January 2019.

Around last November and December two Tesco customers, shopping in Rochdale and Lockerbie, bought jars of baby food and found small sharp pieces of metal as they were in the process of feeding the contents of the jars to their children, who were both under a year old.

The first letter was received on May 21, 2018, at a Tesco store in Brigg, North Lincolnshire, about a complaint being made on behalf of dairy farmers who felt they were not being paid fairly for their milk.

The letter came in a handwritten envelope addressed to "Tesco Store Manager".

South West Farmer:

Artist's impression of Nigel Wright appearing at the Old Bailey, August 11 2020. Picture: Julia Quenzler / SWNS.COM

Prosecutors said the tone of the letter "quickly turned threatening", with a demand for 100 Bitcoin as "compensation for your shortfall" along with a claim that contaminated food had been placed on the shelves - the details of which would only be revealed if and when payment was made.

The letter claimed a "toxic substance" might have been injected through a hole drilled in a can or that sharp objects might have been put into baby food jars.

It also contained a warning that other contaminated products would be put in the store and other Tesco stores, "until payment has been made".

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Four more Tesco stores received the same letter in December 2018 and around the same time the Tesco Head Office in Welwyn Garden City received a letter in an envelope that also contained some white powder.

Chemical analysis revealed the white powder to be a well mixed combination of aluminium silicate and lactose powder in roughly equal quantities, both in fact harmless, the court heard.

One of the allegations against Wright is that he also made threats against Mr Winter, who he had a brief altercation on the road with after refusing to let Mr Winter's car into a line of traffic.

He went on to threaten to kill him and members of his family unless he paid some money - again in Bitcoin.

Mr Winter admitted to police that he reacted by getting out of his car and then throwing a hairbrush at Wright's car, hitting the passenger side window.

At first Wright decided to take no further action after reporting the incident to police, but after being arrested over a year later on suspicion of the blackmail of Tescos, the defendant was arrested. Wright mentioned that incident and appeared to claim Mr Winter was one of the travellers forcing him to commit the offences, the prosecution said.

A few months later a letter was sent to Mr Winter, threatening to kill him and members of his family if he did not pay him ten bitcoin.

He also sent him a photograph of Mr Winter, with a target superimposed on it with bullet holes through the paper.

Wright denies he has anything to do this placing the jars on the Tesco shelves or contaminating them, the prosecution said.

At the defendant's Lincolnshire home, where he lives with his wife and two children, his family keep 120 sheep on their land, where a bungalow is also being built and is described as a "small scale farmer".