The first arrest has been made in relation to the recent fruit contamination scandal as police in New South Wales confirmed that a boy had handed himself in to officers, having admitted to putting needles in strawberries “as a prank”.
Speaking at a news conference, broadcast by Channel 7 on Wednesday afternoon, NSW Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith confirmed the unidentified boy’s arrest, following the recent strawberry crisis that has plagued the country for the past week.
“Obviously in the last few days we found a young person has admitted to a prank, including putting needles in strawberries,” he said. “He’ll be dealt with under the youth cautioning system.”
Smith then went on to stress the seriousness of the crime and the potential punishments, facts which were also reiterated by Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier today.
Addressing media at a press conference on Wednesday, the PM said anyone involved in spiking food could face a decade behind bars. He described those involved so far as “cowards” and “grubs” and said new laws would target the reckless behaviour.
“Some idiot, for his own reasons, or her own reasons, has engaged in an act of sabotage, it would seem, that has put all of that at risk for these people just out there having a go,” he said. “And not only that, mums and dads and their kids have been put in the position of having a real concerns and, indeed, fears. It’s not on.”
Morrison increased the prison penalty from 10 to 15 years for anyone engaging in sabotage similar to the strawberry scandal. In addition, anyone who claims fruit contamination as a hoax, even if they are joking around on social media, could face a decade behind bars. He said the government was taking the issue as seriously as terrorism or fighting child pornography.
While Australians all across the country are being warned to be vigilant when it comes to their fruit, defiant Aussies have taken to social media to show they aren’t afraid of the needle contamination impacting the country’s produce. A week after the first recall of strawberries was issued in Queensland, Australians who are fed up with the impact the scandal is having on farmers and local fruit and veg stores around the country have joined a new social media movement to support farmers and to ensure fruit doesn’t go to waste.
Meanwhile, an additional $1 million relief package was announced by Federal Minister for Regional Services Bridget McKenzie on Wednesday. The funds will help assist farmers, promote Queensland strawberries and investigate gaps in the supply chain. It follows Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s order of a federal investigation into the matter.
That comes after a mother found a needle she purchased as part of a multi-pack at a Woolworths store in Sydney on Tuesday. Worryingly, another customer in South Australia said she found a rusty needle in an apple she purchased from the supermarket giant.
As a precaution, many fruit wholesalers are now using x-ray technology to scan all produce before selling them to Australians. Australians are also being encouraged to check their fruit and cut it before consumption.