A woman in Queensland has been arrested following the strawberry needle scandal that rocked Australia earlier this year.
A number of needles were planted in strawberries across Queensland, before a number of copycat cases appeared across Australia and even New Zealand. In the weeks and months that followed, other fruits and vegetables became the subject of similar contamination, sparking fear in many.
On Sunday, the Queensland Police Service had confirmed they charged a 50-year-old woman following a complex investigation into the alleged contamination of strawberries across the state. Police had originally issued a health risk on September 12 after several punnets of strawberries were contaminated with needles.
The Queensland Police Service, along with multiple government, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, coordinated a national investigation into the matter. A police taskforce was established with officers from the State Crime Command coordinating the investigation. Detectives from other police districts in Queensland were also involved.
Following an investigation, the 50-year-old woman was arrested on Sunday afternoon and was charged with seven counts of contamination of goods under Section 238 of the Criminal Code. This has a three-year maximum penalty, although a circumstance of aggravation has also been alleged and could mean the woman spends 10 years behind bars.
She will face Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday.
“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 in a statement. “The Queensland Police Service has allocated a significant amount of resources to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.”
Although a charge has been made, Police said the case is far from over.
“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,” Wacker added. “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.”
According to a report on Monday’s Sunrise, the woman was arrested in Caboolture, north of Brisbane. The woman was taken to the Brisbane watch house after her arrest. It is thought she was caught out after her DNA was found on one of the needles found in a contaminated strawberry.
According to Sunrise, the woman runs a labour hire company and that she had “some sort of gripe” with the strawberry farmer. It is alleged she told people she was going to “bring him [the farmer] down” and “put him out of business”.
Following the news of the charged, Queensland’s Strawberry Growers Association released a statement.
“Queensland Strawberry Growers Association (QSGA) are pleased to be advised that police have arrested someone and charged them with the original act of product sabotage in the needles in strawberries incident,” it read. “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 congratulate Queensland Police for their efforts.”
QSGA admitted it was concerning the charges only related to six or seven punnets of strawberries when more than 200 other cases were reported.
“Controlling bad public behaviour, including product tampering, is a challenge beyond the control of farmers,” the statement continued. “There was never an issue with the quality, integrity and freshness of local grown strawberries.
“It was a crisis driven by social media and the only real victims were the strawberry growers, and to some extent other Australian fruit growers and exporters.”