My Ut Trinh, 50, is driven into the police watch-house in Brisbane on Sunday.
My Ut Trinh, 50, is driven into the police watch-house in Brisbane on Sunday.

Accused strawberry saboteur to remain behind bars

A QUEENSLAND woman accused of contaminating strawberries with needles, sparking an industry-wide crisis, should be kept behind bars "for her own safety" because people may be seeking "retribution", a court has heard.  

Berrylicious/Berry Obsession picking supervisor My Ut Trinh, 50, faced Brisbane Magistrates Court this morning on seven counts of contaminating goods with intent to cause loss.  

Trinh's lawyer Michael Cridland launched a bail application on the woman's behalf but was forced to withdraw it part way through after Magistrate Christine Roney said she was not in a position to grant bail until more was understood about the alleged offending.  

Mr Cridland said Trinh was a Vietnamese refugee who had arrived in Australia by boat more than 20 years ago and that she was not a flight risk, having significant ties to the community.  

He said Trinh had known for months that she was a person of interest and had not made any moves to avoid the investigation.  

"She's done everything that one might interpret as being a person who has nothing to fear from these allegations," Mr Cridland said.  

He said it was important for the nature of the offending and the significant publicity surrounding the strawberry needle saga not to overshadow the application.  

Mr Cridland said Trinh "speaks very little English" and a Vietnamese interpreter was present in the court.  

Police prosecutor Cheryl Tesch said the application for bail was strongly opposed on the grounds that Trinh was a flight risk and should remain in custody "for her own safety" because she could become the victim of retribution.  

"If the defendant was granted bail it would jeopardise the prosecution case," she said.  

"There may be retribution from people seeking to locate her."   The case was adjourned to November 22.  

Wamuran strawberry Farmer Kevin Tran. Picture: Lachie Millard
Wamuran strawberry Farmer Kevin Tran. Picture: Lachie Millard

  Meanwhile, detectives have revealed the scope of the alleged strawberry contamination investigation.  

Operation Quebec Rosella kicked off on September 9 when a man bit into a needle threaded strawberry in Brisbane  

A further 231 reports of strawberry contamination were received impacting 68 brands across Australia with 49 based in Queensland.  

Of those 186 incidents involved needles placed in strawberries  

In Queensland there were 77 incidents of sabotage but 15 of these were hoaxes or false reports.  

Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker, from the Drug and Serious Crime Group, said the investigation was "unprecedented".  

"This has probably being one of the most trying investigations that I've been part of … we've worked tirelessly," he said.

 

Dumped strawberries at Donnybrook Berries at Elimbah.
Dumped strawberries at Donnybrook Berries at Elimbah.

 

"It's fairly a unique investigation with virtually the whole of State Crime Command (involved) … impacting virtually every state and jurisdiction in Australia."  

Det. Supt. Wacker believed the evidence against Trinh, who was arrested yesterday in Forest Lake, was strong.   DNA will form part of the evidence, he said.  

The multi-agency investigation included the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission along with police forces across the country.  

"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," he said.  

"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."

 

One of the needles found in a strawberry in September.
One of the needles found in a strawberry in September.


HOW THE CRISIS UNFOLDED

SEPTEMBER 9

Man eats strawberry contaminated by needle in Queensland, admitted to Sunshine Coast University Hospital with abdominal pain.

SEPTEMBER 11

Another needle found in Gladstone, along with two cases in Victoria. A mother living at Kellyville Ridge finds a pin inside a pink lady apple.

SEPTEMBER 12

Woolworths removes the brands Berry Obsession and Berrylicious from its shelves in NSW, Queensland and Victoria. Pins found in punnets of strawberries sold at Coles Wingham and Coles Green Hills. Queensland Police announces an investigation into the contamination.

SEPTEMBER 13

Police and health authorities encourage families to cut up their strawberries before eating, and warn of copycat cases.

SEPTEMBER 14

Three needles discovered in a punnet of strawberries at Coles Engadine. Later that day, Coles withdraws strawberries from sales in all states except Western Australia.

SEPTEMBER 15

NSW Police warns the people of NSW and says it has received reports of contaminated strawberries purchased at supermarkets at Tweed Heads, Taree and Wingham.

SEPTEMBER 16

Contaminated strawberries found in Adelaide Hills.

SEPTEMBER 17

Coles begins stocking strawberries again. Farmers begin dumping unsold strawberries,
putting the $500 million industry at risk.

SEPTEMBER 18

Strawberry industry calls for calm in wake of tampering issue, and says the crisis has damaged the industry and cost growers millions of dollars. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announces $1 million in funding to boost the strawberry industry as farmers struggle following recent incidents of contamination.

SEPTEMBER 19

NSW Police begin investigating a complaint about a needle that was allegedly found inside a banana at a grocery store in Condell Park. A Coles customer shopping at West Gosford discovers a needle inside a mango.

SEPTEMBER 20

NSW Police say they are DNA testing needles and packaging to find copycat offenders after more than 50 cases of fruit sabotage have been reported in the state.House of Representative and the Senate strengthen food safety laws, with criminals guilty of contaminating fruit now facing up to 15 years in jail. Woolworths stops selling sewing needles.

SEPTEMBER 24

New Zealand supermarket Countdown removes Australian strawberries from the shelves after a woman in Auckland finds a needle in a punnet.

NOVEMBER 1

Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner announces the beginning of the Government-backed support package for the strawberry industry to roll out during summer.

NOVEMBER 11

Farm worker My Ut Trinh, 50, is arrested and charged.



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