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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Woman charged over needles in Australian strawberries

Discovery of contaminated fruit caused a nationwide panic in September

A woman has been charged after a "complex" investigation into an Australian strawberry scare where needles were found stuck into the fruit, police said on Sunday.

Queensland state authorities offered a large reward and the national government raised jail terms for such crimes after sewing needles were found in plastic boxes of the fruit sold in supermarkets in September.

The first case came to light when a man was taken to hospital with stomach pains after eating strawberries. This was followed by more than 100 claims of pins and needles being found in fruit, mostly strawberries, from across the country in September.

One incident was also reported in New Zealand.

Police said a 50-year-old woman was arrested and charged on Sunday with seven counts of contaminating goods "following a complex ... and extensive investigation".

"This is a major and unprecedented police investigation with a lot of complexities involved," Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker said.

"The Queensland Police Service has allocated a significant amount of resources to ensure those responsible are brought to justice."

The woman faces up to 10 years in prison and is to appear before a Brisbane court on Monday.

Police did not reveal any motives for the fruit contamination which led supermarkets to pull stocks from the shelves and farmers to dump tonnes of unwanted strawberries. The government raised the maximum prison sentence for fruit tampering from 10 to 15 years.

The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association spokeswoman Jennifer Rowling welcomed the arrest and said the scare had had a "crippling impact" on farmers.

"However, it is disconcerting that the charges relate to only six or seven punnets of strawberries, proving that the majority of ... incidents were copycats or false reports," she told national broadcaster ABC.