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The man behind the plot to blackmail Tesco for £1.4m by contaminating jars of baby food was a Ukip MP candidate and a Grimsby Conservative chairman

The man at the centre of the biggest blackmail investigation in the UK is a former North East Lincolnshire councillor and Ukip parliamentary candidate, it can be revealed.

Sheep farmer Nigel Wright is facing up to 14 years in jail for blackmailing Tesco over baby food contaminated with shards of metal.

He represented Freshney ward in Grimsby after winning the seat in 2003, campaigning to reduce crime and the fear of it.

Previously he served as the chairman of the Great Grimsby Conservative Association, when he was the youngest ever to be appointed to the position at the age of 29.

Wright switched to Ukip and stood for the Brigg and Goole Constituency in 2010

But at The Old Bailey on Thursday, the former Healing farmer was convicted of contaminating jars of baby food with shards of metal in an elaborate blackmail of superstore giant, Tesco.

He demanded £1.4 million in Bitcoin from the retailer in return for information about where he had hidden the jars.

Wright, 45, and a married, father of two is facing up to 14 years in prison for his actions.

A sheep farmer in Market Rasen for the past 10 years, living at Pine Meadows, Caistor Road, Wright, denied the charges, but was convicted by jury of two counts of contaminating goods and three counts of blackmail. He claimed he was threatened by a group of travellers.

The court heard two mothers found the metal fragments when they were feeding their children after Wright began his two-year campaign in the spring of 2018.

He threatened to inject tins of fruit with cyanide and salmonella unless the supermarket giant handed over the cash in Bitcoin.

Wright signed off his emails and letters ‘Guy Brush & the Dairy Pirates + Tinkerbell the naughty fairy,’ and claimed he represented dairy farmers who had been underpaid by Tesco.

He triggered two nationwide recalls on both Cow & Gate and Heinz baby food as a result of the threats, prompting the supermarket to clear 140,000 products from the shelves.

A detective posed as a Tesco employee named Sam Scott and handed over £100,000 in the crypto-currency to trap the blackmailer.

Wright was caught on CCTV buying wine and flowers for his wife after placing a contaminated jar on the shelves of a Tesco branch in Lockerbie in Scotland on November 29 last year.

He also placed two jars of contaminated food on the shelves of a Rochdale shop.

Prosecutor Julian Christopher, QC, said the blackmailer took ‘delight’ in his extravagant plan to outsmart the supermarket giant.

He believed he could ‘get rich’ without leaving any trace of his identity by using the bitcoin cryptocurrency and downloading the browser Tor allowing for anonymous communication.

But his emails and letters were forwarded onto police and he was soon unwittingly interacting with an undercover officer.

A draft of an email to Tesco was found on one of Wright’s devices after his property was searched. The threat read: “Imagine a baby’s mouth cut open blood pouring out and the inside of their belly cut and bleeding.”

He was remanded in custody ahead of sentence due to take place at a date to be fixed after pre-sentence reports are prepared.

The sentencing next month at The Old Bailey is a world away from his respected role as the Conservative councillor for Freshney ward, which he won in 2003 along with businessman Paul Brewster and fellow councillor Peter Bellini.

Campaigning for the Freshney ward, aged 28, he said: “My aim is to make the community a clean and safer place, where children can play happily and people do not fear to venture out after dark.”

Wright campaigned for better flood defences in 2007. At his farm at Healing thousands of pounds worth of crops were devastated in floods. A prize ewe he owned drowned, but he managed to save a flock of around 50 of his sheep. Silage from a nearby turkey farm had contaminated flood water.

His animals were again in the news when one of his rams was killed by a dog. Wright called on all dog owners to ensure their pets were kept on a lead after that incident.

Having lost the seat at a later election, he then stood for the Conservatives in Heneage ward in Grimsby in May 2007, but only secured 435 votes.

He told voters he was fan of Road Wars and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. He campaigned to reduce crime and fear of it.

In a debate about school exclusions he said school should not have their hands tied in order to expel unruly kids. He also expressed outrage when there was an arson attack on bales of straw near his then farm on Marsh Lane, Healing.

When someone shot a swan on the River Freshney he told the Grimsby Telegraph “Unfortunately there are people out and about who take pleasure out of doing this” and he called for people to be “more responsible.”

In a debate in the council chamber about nuisance tenants he said it was essential to monitor behaviour and also to take preventative action.

He campaigned with Councillor Bellini to support police to get tough with gangs “terrorising the streets of Willows and Wybers” and branded them “a mindless minority.”

He also served on the Humberside Fire Authority.

The current Conservative Leader of North East Lincolnshire Council, Councillor Philip Jackson said: “Clearly what he has done is wrong and I would not defend anything he has done, not for a moment.”

Operation Hancock, as the investigation was codenamed, has been the largest blackmail inquiry ever conducted in the UK and was led by Hertfordshire Assistant Chief Constable Bill Jephson, who said: “Throughout this investigation, our key focus was to safeguard the public and identify the individual or group involved as they clearly had no concern for the impact of their actions.

“I want to extend my sincere thanks to all those officers, specialist law enforcement units and agencies who gave of their best in what was often a fast-moving and challenging investigation where no stone was left unturned. This was truly a partnership response which also involved close collaboration with the victim companies who were highly responsive and operationally supportive throughout.”

Assistant Chief Constable Jephson added: “Through the determined efforts of so many dedicated professionals, a dangerous offender is now facing the justice he deserves. I hope the conviction of Nigel Wright will serve as a deterrent to anyone who thinks blackmail is a viable criminal option. The resources available to law enforcement to respond to threats of this nature are significant as crimes like this will simply not be tolerated.”

Grimsby Telegraph