Devon

Devon anthrax hoaxer jailed for targeting female MPs

Richard Hayes Image copyright ERSOU
Image caption Richard Hayes has been jailed for sending packages containing white powder

A hoaxer with a "hatred of women" has been jailed for five years for sending packages of white powder to female MPs, a Euro MP and local councillors.

Richard Hayes, 40, from Brixham, Devon, sent packages some marked as "anthrax" to 16 victims, the majority women, between May 2011 and April 2014.

Judge Mrs Justice May at Exeter Crown Court told Hayes he "caused distress".

He had admitted 16 charges of committing a hoax by sending a noxious substance under anti-terror law.

The judge said on several occasions parents were left terrified because their children had been with them when packages were opened and the white powder spilled out.

Police officers trained in chemical and biological attacks were deployed to deal with the packages, which turned out to contain flour or bicarbonate of soda.

Image copyright ERSOU
Image caption Some of the envelopes were marked 'anthrax'

Hayes was caught after his DNA was taken following a caution for harassing a former partner in 2018.

His handwriting was subsequently forensically compared against the text on several envelopes, resulting in his arrest by counter terrorism police in the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU).

Emily Cook, for the defence, said Hayes broke up with a female partner in 2011 and his probation report stated he had "a hatred of women at the time".

The packages were sent to the offices of:

  • Kirsty Williams, Liberal Democrat AM for Brecon and Radnorshire
  • Heidi Alexander, former Labour MP for Lewisham East
  • Baroness Sarah Ludford, former Liberal Democrat MEP for London
  • Helen Jones, former Labour MP for Warrington North
  • Roger Williams, former Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnorshire
  • Emma Reynolds, former Labour MP Wolverhampton North East
  • Baroness Nicola Blackwood, former Conservative MP for Oxford West and Abingdon
  • Jessica Lee, former Conservative MP for Erewash
  • Chloe Smith, former Conservative MP for Norwich North
  • Rebecca Harris, former Conservative MP for Castle Point
  • A number of Exeter city councillors

Following sentencing, former Labour MP for Lewisham East Heidi Alexander said the incident had been "grim for everyone involved" and ended up with her constituency office being cordoned off for several hours.

Former Labour MP Wolverhampton North East Emma Reynolds said: "In this case the powder turned out to be harmless but the incident was frightening and unsettling for me and my staff."

Image copyright ERSOU
Image caption Richard Hayes sent white powder in envelopes to MPs across the country

Police said in one instance, a Post Office was closed for a significant period of time and in another, an accident and emergency department was evacuated.

Det Ch Insp Ian Butler, from ERSOU's Counter Terrorism Policing unit, said the hoaxes "triggered understandable panic and emotional distress to those involved and their families".

"I am pleased that Hayes has now been brought to justice for his sick and senseless acts," he said.

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