Freed British ‘spy’ Matthew Hedges tells how captors gave him drugs

The British academic accused of spying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was pushed to the brink of suicide after standing in ankle cuffs for whole days, threatened with beatings, and force-fed drugs, he has revealed.

Matthew Hedges was held in solitary confinement for five months before being jailed for spying in the UAE last month- something he has always denied.

He was arrested on May 5 in Dubai on his way home from a two-week research trip for his PhD thesis into the security policies of the Gulf.

But the 31-year-old, was among scores of prisoners freed as part of a clemency tradition to mark the UAE National Day, a week after his sentence.

Durham University PhD student Matthew Hedges (R) and his wife Daniela Tejada in London, Britain

Mr Hedges has now revealed he was forced to stand in ankle cuffs and sometimes interrogated for 15 hours at a time in his cell at a Abu Dhabi jail, as reported by The Times.

The 31-year-old was diagnosed with depression and anxiety prior to travelling to the UAE, and he had begged his captors for his medicine.

His wife, Daniela Tejada, 27, had sent UAE authorities an NHS letter confirming his diagnosis in a bid to grant him his medication.

He said he became ‘scared and on edge’ after being force-fed a dangerous cocktail of Xanax, Valium and benzodiazepine by his captors.

This caused him to have seizures and suicidal thoughts and he then spent time in hospital and had to go ‘cold turkey’ from the drugs.

One doctor reportedly said ‘he was surprised that I was still able to talk’.

During his confinement, Mr Hedges was asked by the UAE to work for them as a double agent and ‘steal information from the Foreign Office’, he said.

He said: ‘I was never physically tortured, but it was psychological, and it felt like torture.’

Mr Hedges was welcomed back into the country by his wife, Daniela Tejada, (pictured) and members of his family

The 31-year-old added he was also threatened with being beaten and moved to an overseas military base.

‘With the knife dangling over your head, the Sword of Damocles, that kept me on edge for the whole time,’ he added. 

He sat in darkness for almost whole days after the fluorescent bulbs in his cell gave his migraines, only turning the lights on to eat.

Mr Hedges was eventually convicted of spying and sentenced to life in jail last month, but was pardoned and returned to the UK on Monday November 26.

It was after a high-profile battle with the Gulf state ally, led by foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, but officials persisted in calling him an MI6 spy – a claim denied by family and colleagues.

Speaking to The Times with his wife, they revealed the Foreign Office would not disclose his location to her for six weeks after he had been seized, citing data protection laws.

The couple told of their life following Mr Hedges’ detention, revealing they have not been debriefed by the Foreign Office since he flew back to the UK last week.

He said he is still mystified as to why he became a subject of interest, and Alex Younger, the head of MI6 said previously he was ‘perplexed’ as to why Mr Hedges was accused of working for them.

Mr Hedges (pictured) has previously indicated he is now keen to clear his name and has hired a leading criminal law barrister to begin the process of overturning his conviction for spying

After taking leave from the Exeter-based security company where he works, Mr Hedges travelled to the UAE where he spent a fortnight researching his PhD thesis on its security structure after the Arab Spring.

His interrogators revealed they had been encouraged to investigate him by anonymous sources.

Mr Hedges, who does not think his research interviewees are to blame, believes he was followed by security officers prior to his arrest and that his phone was bugged.

Mr Hedges was arrested by ten Emirati state security officers at Dubai airport in May, and was later forced to sign a confession in Arabic, which he does not speak, admitting to espionage.

He was disappointed to see an old Emirati contact give evidence against him, but conceded the security forces ‘could have threatened him with quite a number of options’.

He had just had coffee with his mother, and was waving goodbye to her when he was blindfolded by the officers and taken away in handcuffs.

Thankfully, she was able to raise the alarm with the British embassy and call a lawyer.

If his mother hadn’t been there, Mr Hedges fears ‘no one would have known where I was’.

Jaber Al Lamki, executive director of media and strategic communication of national media announcing the release of Matthew Hedges last month, but he reiterated Mr Hedges was not going home an innocent man and was guilty of ‘espionage’

During prolonged interrogations, he was repeatedly accused of spying for MI6 and asked about his PhD thesis and the sources of his research, which was publicly available online.

He was offered a bargain if he agreed to spy for the UAE and steal documents from the Foreign Office.

He said he finally gave them the confession they demanded after intense questioning and suffering multiple panic attacks.

He said: ‘They started getting more and more aggressive and I’d have panic attacks for two or three days in a row.

‘After all that pressure, I said OK, fine, whatever, yeah sure.’ 

Mr Hedges has previously indicated he is now keen to clear his name and has hired a leading criminal law barrister to begin the process of overturning his conviction for spying.

In addition he has also said will also attempt to sue the United Arab Emirates for unlawful imprisonment.

Rodney Dixon QC, who represented Mr Hedges wife, Ms Tejada, while he was imprisoned said: ‘We are so very relieved Matthew is back home.

‘In due course we will consider all legal options and remedies to clear his name of this false and unfounded conviction, and to obtain relief for his extended period of unlawful and arbitrary detention.’

Mr Hedges was welcomed back into the country by his wife, Daniela Tejada, and members of his family. 

Ms Tejada previously said: ‘I am so happy to have my Matt home. 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.’  

The student, originally from Exeter, landed at about 6.40am, nine days ago, at London Heathrow.

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