A 50-year-old woman who has been charged with seven counts of contamination over the strawberry needle incidents that sparked a nationwide crisis has been told it is too soon to apply for bail.
The woman, My Ut Trinh, a former Queensland strawberry farm employee known as Judy, appeared in Brisbane Magistrates court today after being charged with seven counts of contamination of goods — between September 2 to 5 — with intent to cause economic loss.
According to AAP, Trinh’s lawyer Michael Cridland made a bail application but withdrew it after magistrate Christine Roney advised it was “premature” because the motivation behind the alleged contamination was still unclear.
“The case that was put is that she was motivated by some fight or revenge,” Ms Roney said.
The first discovery of needles in strawberries was on September 9 and Trinh has known she was a person of interest from September 12, the court heard.
The woman, who will remain in custody until her next hearing later in November, was arrested and charged with seven counts contamination of goods under Section 238 Criminal Code, which has a three-year maximum penalty.
A circumstance of aggravation will also be alleged, elevating the maximum to 10 years’ imprisonment.
It is understood Trinh, a former refugee who arrived in Australia by boat more than two decades ago, worked at the Berry Licious/Berry Obsession farm in southeast Queensland.
It is alleged she had grievances about her treatment at work,
According to 7 News, Trinh allegedly told others she “wanted to bring them down” and “put them out of business.”
Police launched an investigation on Sunday, September 9 after a Queensland man reported swallowing a contaminated berry. Two people in Victoria then came forward after similar experiences.
At the time, Acting Public Health director Scott McKeown warned people to carefully check any Berry Licious or Berry Obsession strawberries from interstate growers for possible contaminants.
Police say the woman’s DNA was found inside a contaminated punnet in Victoria as part of a two-month, complex investigation.
She is expected to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday morning.
Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker from the Drug and Serious Crime Group described it as a major and unprecedented police investigation.
“The Queensland Police Service has allocated a significant amount of resources to ensure those responsible are brought to justice,” Spt Wacker said.
“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 co-operation and members of the public who assisted us with our inquiries.”
The crisis extended across the country with all six states beginning investigations after reports of tampering had seen needles or pins discovered in strawberries, as well apples and bananas.
It resulted in tonnes of strawberries being dumped or going to waste around Australia threatening the future of the half-a-billion-dollar industry.
In response, Coles and Aldi pulled all strawberries from their shelves, while Woolworths only removed the affected brands it stocked.
Western Australia Strawberry Growers Association head Jamie Michael highlighted the impact of the contamination saga when he shared a photo of truckloads of fruit being dumped. It was shared when a needle was found in South Australia in a punnet sourced from WA.
“It’s such a shame. Right now, we’re in the peak of the season, the fruit is eating well, this should be the time when (growers) get some sales and get to put some money back into the bank,” he told the ABC in September.
Wholesale prices had fallen by half to 50 to 60 cents per punnet.
It also led to harsher penalties being rushed through federal parliament for those caught tampering with food.
The Queensland Police Service co-ordinated a national investigative response with multiple government, law enforcement and intelligence agencies before the Caboolture woman’s arrest.
A police taskforce was established with officers from the State Crime Command co-ordinating the investigation together with detectives in a number of police districts in Queensland.
Police have said that investigations are continuing.