Hedges praises wife af­ter be­ing re­leased

Costa Levante News - - THE BRIT SCENE BY TOM DRAPER -

A Bri­tish aca­demic sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment by the United Arab Emi­rates for spy­ing and then pardoned by the na­tion's pres­i­dent days later thanked his wife and ev­ery­one who helped 'se­cur­ing my re­lease' as he landed back in the UK.

Matthew Hedges was freed on Mon­day af­ter a high­pro­file battle with the Gulf state ally, but of­fi­cials per­sisted in calling him an MI6 spy ­ a claim de­nied by fam­ily and col­leagues.

In his first state­ment is­sued af­ter land­ing at Heathrow Air­port on Tues­day morn­ing, Mr Hedges praised his 'brave and strong' wife Daniela Te­jada, say­ing "see­ing her and my fam­ily af­ter this or­deal is the best thing that could have hap­pened".

The Durham Univer­sity PhD stu­dent, orig­i­nally from Ex­eter, was sen­tenced on Wed­nes­day af­ter be­ing ar­rested at Dubai Air­port as he tried to leave on May 5.

"I don't know where to be­gin with thank­ing peo­ple for se­cur­ing my re­lease," Mr Hedges said.

"I have not seen or read much of what has been writ­ten over the past few days but Dani tells me the sup­port has been in­cred­i­ble. Thank you so much to the Bri­tish Em­bassy and the FCO (For­eign Of­fice) for their ef­forts in en­sur­ing I ar­rived safely back home.

"I could not have done this with­out Daniela, I hear her face is ev­ery­where!

"She is so brave and strong. See­ing her and my fam­ily af­ter this or­deal is the best thing that could have hap­pened. I thank you all once again, this is very sur­real."

His wife mounted a cam­paign to free the 31­year­old and For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt per­son­ally dis­cussed the case with UAE lead­ers.

"I am so happy to have my Matt home," she said.

"Thank you once again for the over­whelm­ing sup­port we have re­ceived, es­pe­cially from the em­bassy in the UAE and the For­eign Of­fice in en­sur­ing that Matt was safely re­turned home. We are over­joyed and ex­hausted!

"Thank you once again as well to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and the in­ter­na­tional me­dia who were very sup­port­ive from the begin­ning.

"I hope you can all un­der­stand that Matt and I, as well as his fam­ily, re­ally need some time to process ev­ery­thing that we have been through. No one should ever have to go through what he did and it will take him time to heal and re­cover. He is very over­whelmed.

"To say we are happy is an un­der­state­ment."

Ear­lier, she said news of the par­don brought her fam­ily's "night­mare" to an end, and Mr Hunt de­scribed it as "fan­tas­tic".

At a news con­fer­ence on Mon­day in Abu Dhabi, of­fi­cials showed a video of Mr Hedges de­scrib­ing him­self as a cap­tain in MI6 dur­ing what ap­peared to be a court hear­ing.

How­ever, MI6 ­ the for­eign in­tel­li­gence ser­vice ­ is not known to use mil­i­tary ranks.

An of­fi­cial told re­porters in Abu Dhabi that Mr Hedges was '100% a full­time se­cret ser­vice op­er­a­tive' who was in the coun­try ' to steal the UAE's sen­si­tive se­cu­rity na­tional se­crets for his pay­mas­ters'.

He said the Bri­ton's par­don came in re­sponse to a let­ter from his fam­ily ap­peal­ing for clemency and due to the his­tor­i­cal close ties be­tween the UK and the UAE.

"His high­ness has de­cided to in­clude Mr Matthew Hedges among the 785 pris­on­ers re­leased," he said.

"Mr Hedges will be per­mit­ted to leave the coun­try once all the for­mal­i­ties are com­plete."

The UK takes a "nei­ther con­firm nor deny" ap­proach to al­le­ga­tions of in­tel­li­gence ser­vice mem­ber­ship, but Mr Hunt has pre­vi­ously said he has seen "ab­so­lutely no ev­i­dence" to sug­gest Mr Hedges is a spy.

Fol­low­ing the par­don, Ms Te­jada, from Bo­gota in Colom­bia, con­tin­ued to re­ject the ac­cu­sa­tion that her hus­ band was a spy.

UAE min­is­ter of state for for­eign af­fairs An­war Gar­gash said the par­don would al­low the two coun­tries to 're­turn our fo­cus to the un­der­ly­ing fun­da­men­tal strength of the UAE­UK bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship', the WAM Emi­rates news agency re­ported.

Pro­fes­sor Stuart Cor­bridge, vicechan­cel­lor of Durham Univer­sity, said staff were 'ab­so­lutely de­lighted' to learn of the news.

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