September 19, 2018 12:33 pm
Updated: September 19, 2018 1:32 pm

Australian police arrest boy over ‘prank’ that left needles in strawberries

WATCH: Australia's government, police to launch investigation after needles found in strawberries

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Police in Australia have arrested a “young person” who admitted to putting needles inside strawberries.

New South Wales Police acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith described the act as a “prank” at a news conference Wednesday.

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READ MORE: Australians report needles in strawberries across the country

“In the past few days, we’ve found a young person has admitted to a copycat prank, including putting needles in strawberries. He will be dealt with in the youth cautioning system,” Smith said.

The officer added that although the act was meant as a prank, it is being dealt with as a “serious crime” that carries a possible sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

“We deal with it through the way we deal with any crime,” he said. “It’s a very serious nature.”

Cases of needles being found in strawberries have been reported in several parts of the country.

Police are investigating more than 100 reports of needles found in fruit. Needles were first found in strawberries produced by one supplier in the northern state of Queensland.

WATCH: Needles found in strawberries sending some to hospital in Australia

On Tuesday, police in New South Wales said they were investigating incidents involving an apple and a banana.

Police have said many of the reported incidents could be copycats or hoaxes.

READ MORE: Strawberries recalled in Australian state after needles found inside fruit

In reaction to the fruit scare, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he plans on increasing the maximum jail term to 15 years for anyone convicted of contaminating food products.

“You are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk, and you are scaring children. And you are a coward and a grub,” Morrison said.

Meanwhile, fruit sales have plunged in the country as consumers err on the side of caution.

Empty shelves, normally stocked with strawberry punnets, are seen at a Coles Supermarket in Brisbane, Australia, Sept. 14, 2018.

Dan Peled via Reuters

Farmers have also spoken out, many saying they face financial ruin if demand does not recover quickly.

“It is costing us a lot of money. On our own farm, (it costs) about $35,000 per day to harvest just the fruit we are dumping,” said Gavin Scurr, a strawberry grower in Wamuran, 64 kilometres north of Brisbane.

Officials, however, have said Australians should keep buying fruits and other produce. They have advised them to cut fruit up before eating it out of caution.

A social media awareness campaign called #SmashAStrawb has also popped up, urging Australians to keep eating the fruit in order to support farmers.

In Australia, the term “smash” means eating or drinking something “enthusiastically,” according to CNN.

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan posted on Twitter Tuesday using the hashtag, writing: “Western Australians, get behind our local industry. Slice them in half and #SmashAStrawb to help out our local growers today.”

— With files from Reuters

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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