23 Mar 2016

1080 blackmail 'despicable behaviour'

7:01 pm on 23 March 2016

An Auckland businessman who threatened to spike infant milk formula with 1080 has been jailed for eight and a half years.

no caption

Jeremy Hamish Kerr Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Jeremy Hamish Kerr sent letters anonymously to dairy company Fonterra and Federated Farmers in November 2014, hoping to push the government to ban 1080.

He appeared for sentencing at the High Court in Auckland today.

Kerr owned a company which manufactured an alternative to 1080 poison, and Justice Geoffrey Venning had earlier ruled that Kerr's financial gain was at least part of the motivation behind the offending.

Crown prosecutor Christine Gordon said the combined losses to dairy companies and investigation agencies was in the order of $37 million.

Justice Venning said the threat was made worse by Kerr including a fatal dose of 1080 mixed with milk powder. He said the potential impact on New Zealand trade could have been catastrophic.

At a disputed facts hearing held last month, the Crown argued Kerr's financial state was desperate at the time and his desire to make money motivated his threats, while Kerr's lawyer said the businessman acted out of stupidity, and financial gain was not the primary driver.

But Justice Venning found Kerr was under considerable financial pressure and knew that if 1080 was to be banned, he would have been better off financially.

'Enormous stress on families'

Prime Minister John Key said Kerr had behaved despicably by threatening the lives of children and it was a relief to have him behind bars.

"Because the pressure here was that if he really carried this out, that's put enormous stress on families, particularly mothers feeding babies infant formula and the caregivers, the risk that that could end so terribly," he said.

"We don't as a general rule comment on people that get sentenced, that's a matter for the courts but what I would say is most New Zealanders, I think all New Zealanders, would be appalled by this gentleman's behaviour.

"I mean to go out there for commercial or profiteering gain, put out the sort of scaremongering campaign and at least argue that they're going to carry out the threats that could kill babies is just despicable behaviour."

Mr Key said the sentence should act as a strong deterrent, and that the police deserved recognition for solving a tremendously difficult case.

Federated Farmers chief executive Graham Smith said Kerr's actions were a direct attack on the fabric of society.

The threat could have led to an international ban on New Zealand food products, he said.

"The 1080 threat had the potential to devastate our ability to successfully operate within these markets, and would have cost the country billions of dollars.

"Customers would have stopped buying and using our products due to their immediate safety concerns."

There was a potential threat to all sectors of society, given the country's reliance on primary industries, Mr Smith said.

Fonterra chairman John Wilson said Kerr's actions were deplorable and had a huge impact on the cooperative and other food firms.

How much the incident cost

  • Cost to Fonterra: $20m
  • Cost to other dairy companies: Between $400,000 and $1.9m
  • Cost to the supermarkets: $1.7m
  • Cost to Ministry of Primary Industries: $4.2m
  • Cost of police investigation: $5m

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs