Strawberry farm worker charged over needles refused bail
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Strawberry farm worker charged over needles refused bail

A Caboolture woman charged with placing needles in strawberries, triggering a nationwide food tampering crisis, has been refused bail.

My Ut Trinh, 50, appeared calm in the dock after spending the night in custody.

She was arrested on Sunday night after a protracted investigation into the sabotage of three Queensland strawberry brands, and was charged with seven counts of aggravated contamination of goods, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Ms Trinh was an employee of the Berrylicious strawberry farm in Caboolture, north of Brisbane, working as a supervisor.

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Police prosecutors strongly opposed bail, saying there was a risk of witnesses from within the Vietnamese community being interfered with and a risk of retribution toward Ms Trinh.

Court documents show Ms Trinh was charged with contaminating strawberries at unknown times between September 2 and September 6, with the intent to cause financial loss to the owner of Berrylicious strawberry farm.

My Ut Trinh was arrested following an investigation into the alleged contamination of strawberries containing needles in Queensland in September.

My Ut Trinh was arrested following an investigation into the alleged contamination of strawberries containing needles in Queensland in September.Credit:AAP/Dan Peled

Magistrate Christine Roney described the case as "highly unusual" with Ms Trinh's motive "hard to understand".

Her lawyer Michael Cridland told the Brisbane Magistrates Court Ms Trinh arrived in Australia more than 20 years ago as a refugee and was an Australian citizen.

The months-long investigation into Queensland’s strawberry sabotage was broken open by information from Victoria Police, with DNA evidence expected to form a part of the police’s case.

Delays to Ms Trinh’s case being heard on Monday morning were due to her lawyer seeking an interpreter, the court heard.

Mr Cridland withdrew an application for bail after Ms Roney advised him more detail about the case was needed before she could hear such applications.

He had earlier argued the Berrylicious strawberry farm supervisor was no flight risk, pointing out she had been aware she was a person of interest in the case for nearly two months and had made no move to leave.

Ms Trinh went to a prearranged meeting with police to provide a DNA sample two weeks ago, prior to her arrest, Mr Cridland said.

A photo of a contaminated strawberry posted to social media.

A photo of a contaminated strawberry posted to social media. Credit:Facebook/Angela Stevenson

A match for her DNA was allegedly found on a needle in a strawberry found in Victoria.

Ms Trinh’s niece was in the courtroom working with the lawyer to interpret for her aunt, while a police interpreter was also present.

Bail was denied and Ms Trinh was remanded in custody to reappear at Brisbane Magistrates Court on November 22.

Queensland's strawberry industry collapsed during the growing season, with thousands of strawberries dumped as supermarkets and shops pulled the fruit from shelves.

The crisis prompted Prime Minister Scott Morrison to announce legislation extending the possible jail time for anyone convicted of food tampering to 15 years.

Queensland Police Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker, of the Drug and Serious Crime Group, said the investigation had been unprecedented.

Superintendent Wacker said the case was finally broken open upon information received by Victoria Police as part of the interstate investigation.

“These offences are a crime and, if convicted, carry a maximum of 10 years in prison,” Superintendent Wacker said.

The farm involved had been notified of the arrest and was “very relieved”, he said.

Police handled more than 230 reports of fruit sabotage across Australia, across 68 brands.

Forty-nine of those brands were Queensland-based, with 186 of the total complaints about needles as the primary contaminant.

Superintendent Wacker said there were 77 reports in Queensland alone, of which 15 were believed to be hoaxes.

He thanked the public for its support in the investigation, with Crime Stoppers receiving 61 calls about the alleged sabotage.

“This is one of the most trying investigations I’ve worked on,” Superintendent Wacker said, noting the extensive involvement of interstate police and Australian Border Force during the months-long investigation.

Lucy is the urban affairs reporter for the Brisbane Times, with a special interest in Brisbane City Council.

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