United Kingdom

Champion gooseberry grower loses title 'after his prized bushes were poisoned and killed by rival'

A champion gooseberry grower claims he lost his title after his prized bushes were poisoned and killed by a suspected rival ahead of a prestigious competition. 

Terry Price, 76, believes his crops were sprayed with a mystery chemical formula which caused many of his plants to die within a matter of days. 

The former butcher and postman has won the competition, held in the aptly named village of Goostrey, in Cheshire, a record 11 times, and has been competing since the 1960s. 

Last year the grandad-of-six claimed victory with a 50g beast of a berry - however following this year's 'sabotage', he had to settle for seventh after his best offering weighed a paltry 28g. 

Terry says he noticed his bushes looking 'sickly' three months ago and that within just ten days they were dead.

Since then he has sent some of the plants for laboratory testing and discovered they were sprayed with a damaging chemical formula not available to buy over the counter.

Good memberries: Terry Price, 76, with his champion gooseberry in 2020, which weighed a whopping 50g 

Terry said the 'sabotage' destroyed his hopes of winning the competition on Saturday.

Terry, whose wife Stella died four years ago, has not named his prime suspect but says he has a 'good idea' who is responsible and that he's sure the 'truth will come out'.

He said: 'They have been tampered with, there's no doubt about that.

'I could have cried when I found out because so much work goes into it and then it's all gone just like that.

'I'm sure whoever is responsible knows what they were doing.

'They know exactly where my best trees are and that's what they've targeted, which is why this year's competition has been such a struggle.

'I've got a good idea about who did it but time will tell. The truth will come out.'

Retired Terry, who also previously worked as a gardener and lorry driver, first entered the Goostrey Show as an 18-year-old in the mid-1960s and is now its president.

His goose was cooked: Terry said his chances of winning this year's contest were dashed when his crops were poisoned (Pictured: Terry with his gooseberries at this year's contest in Goostrey, Cheshire) 

The annual competition pits growers up against one another to see who can present the heaviest gooseberry.

Terry spends a whole year cultivating his crop, which involves keeping it inside a pen and regular watering and feeding of his biggest fruits.

He first noticed something awry with this year's harvest back in May.

Terry said: 'I had already noticed they looked sickly and then one day my son was in the garden and said, 'dad, there's something wrong'.

'The gate into the pen was open and all the gooseberries were drooping and sad-looking.

'Within ten days they were all dead.

'They were all my best trees in the pen and I could have cried when I saw them,  I thought "oh my god, what has happened".

'I couldn't believe my eyes.

'Only four trees survived but the berries are little and it will be another 12 months before they are fit for anything.'

Terry, suspicious at the turn of events, then contacted a friend and managed to get some of his plants sent off for laboratory testing.

He said: 'I had done everything as I always would, there was nothing different, so I knew that something else had happened.

Humongoose: Terry's entry last year (pictured) weighed a massive 50g, significantly more than this year's victorious 45g offering 

'I had them tested and the results showed they had been sprayed with a formula that isn't available to the public.

'It was something very strong that acted as a plant killer.'

Terry said he has 'never seen anything like it' in all his years.

He added: 'Don't get me wrong we are all competitive and want to win but at the end of the day we're friends and get along.

'We go to the pub afterwards and have a good time.

'I have never seen anything like this before, it's very strange.'

Martin de Kretser, secretary of the Goostrey Gooseberry Society, said: 'Sadly Terry has reported potential sabotage with the spraying of his trees with weed killer.

Berry well done: Chris Jones, 69, pictured with his trophy on Saturday after claiming the 2021 title with a 45g whopper

'Needless to say if this was another gooseberry grower they would be banned for life but I find this hard to believe someone would do that to Terry.

'I do hope that it wasn't a deliberate act and just a mistake in using contaminated compost or accidental spraying with the wrong chemicals. It is easily done.'

This year's competition was taken away by 69-year-old gooseberry grower of 30 years Chris Jones, who produced a 45g whopper for the judges.

Chris competed despite losing his brother to coronavirus less than 24 hours earlier.

Speaking afterwards, he said: 'I felt the show must go on and decided when I won I would dedicate the berry to my brother.'

Despite this year's heartache, Terry says he will be back better than ever in 2022.

He added: 'I'll definitely go for it again next year, although I might have to lock the pen up this time.'

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