Youth arrested for putting needles in strawberries: Australia police

Youth arrested for putting needles in strawberries: Australia police

Australia strawberry needles
Supplied handout image of a thin piece of metal seen among a punnet of strawberries in Gladstone. (Photo: AAP/Queensland Police/Handout via REUTERS)

SYDNEY: A young person has admitted to putting needles in strawberries in the first arrest since the food scare began, according to Australian police.

New South Wales police acting assistant commissioner Stuart Smith said in a press conference on Wednesday (Sep 19) that the youth in question was arrested in the last few days.

He was apparently performing a copycat prank and will be dealt with under the youth cautioning system.

New South Wales Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith
NSW Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith addressing media queries at a press conference on Sep 19. (Photo: NSW Police Force)

The first cases emerged in Queensland and in the most serious incident, a man was taken to hospital last week after eating a strawberry that contained a needle.

Reports of contaminated fruit have now spread to Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia, BBC said.

Police across the country are now dealing with more than 100 cases of contaminated fruit, ABC reported on its website. However, authorities believe many are hoax or copycat incidents.

"There are only three products at the centre of the investigation," said Mr Smith, referring to cases involving an apple and bananas.

READ: Strawberry sabotage akin to 'terrorism': Australia PM

On Wednesday, The Herald reported that a child at a primary school in Newcastle found a needle in a banana packed in his lunchbox - in a second reported case involving a banana thus far.

New South Wales on Wednesday became the third Australian state to offer an A$100,000 reward for information leading to the prosecution of any individual who contaminates a food source.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has compared the crime to "terrorism", calling on parliament to raise the maximum sentence for such deliberate food contamination from 10 to 15 years behind bars.

READ: Australians urged to #SmashAStrawb in support of local farmers amid needle scandal

READ: No import of Australian strawberry brands with needle contamination: Singapore's AVA

The needle scare has led to strawberry farmers being forced to dump their produce, casting a shadow over the industry worth AUS$160 million a year. 

Authorities have suggested strawberries be cut up before they are eaten.

Source: AFP/nh/(hm)