A Queensland woman accused of sparking a national food safety panic by inserting needles into strawberries allegedly mentioned the idea of doing so two years earlier.
My Ut Trinh, 50, has been granted bail after being charged with food contamination offences earlier this month. Police allege they identified her DNA on a needle found in a strawberry punnet in Victoria.
Prosecutors allege the former strawberry farm supervisor was seeking revenge over a workplace grievance when she contaminated the fruit.
She allegedly told a co-worker: “If I hate anyone, I would put the needle in the strawberry and make them go bankrupt”, Brisbane Magistrates Court heard on Thursday.
The co-worker claimed she made the comments “one or two years ago”.
Trinh’s lawyer Nick Dore argued the evidence was circumstantial and statements against her were “littered with hearsay and innuendo”.
“There is no motive. There has been no suggestion why this would occur,” Mr Dore said.
That’s the strength of the case – a conversation that maybe occurred maybe one or two years ago.
“They say it’s to create financial harm. In the statement by the complainant … there’s no threat, ‘I’m going to do this’. There’s not, ‘if you don’t pay me X, I will do Y’.
“Where’s the disagreement? He (the complainant) in fact says there’s no disagreement.”
Trinh was working at Berrylicious in her hometown of Caboolture, north of Brisbane, between September 2 and 5 when she allegedly inserted needles into the fruit.
She was charged with seven counts of contamination of goods with intent to cause economic loss.
DNA found on one of the needles was “100 billion times likely” to be Trinh’s, police prosecutor Cheryl Tesch told the court.
Growers like Trinh’s boss suffered financial losses of about $160 million, according the prosecution, as they were forced to destroy crops.
“It’s alleged the offences committed by the defendant had serious economic consequences … not just for the complainant farmer in this case … but for the Australian economy as a whole,” Ms Tesch said.
The first needle was discovered on September 9 when a man bit into a contaminated strawberry he bought at a supermarket.
Trinh almost immediately became a person of interest to police, the court had previously heard.
As more needles were discovered around the country – with many believed to have been planted by copycats – strawberries were stripped from shelves.
Police have said 230 needle contamination incidents were ultimately reported nationwide, affecting 68 strawberry brands.
Trinh will relinquish her passport and has been barred from speaking to former farm worker colleagues as part of her bail conditions.
She faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.