A man who targeted female politicians with fake anthrax packages has been jailed for five years.

Richard Hayes sent white envelopes containing white powder to MPs, an MEP and local councillors.

On some of the envelopes he wrote the word 'anthrax'.

Mrs Justice May jailed the former bus driver to five years after he admitted 16 charges of committing a hoax by sending a noxious substance under anti-terror laws.

She told 40-year-old Hayes:"On 16 separate occasions over a three-year period from April 2011 to April 2014 you posted envelopes which contained white powder to politicians, MPs, MEPs and councillors in different parts of the UK, all of them women."

The judge told Exeter Crown Court that the campaign 'caused distress and disruption by your actions' and the white powder turned out to be flour or bicarbonate of soda.

On three occasions police specialists dressed in chemical, biological and nuclear protective clothing had to deal with the incidents and one MP was taken to a hospital which had to go into lockdown as the substance was analysed.

Heidi Alexander was one MP who received a fake anthrax package

One local councillor refused to stand for public office again.

She 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.

The victims included Roger Williams MP and his wife Kirsty, a Welsh Assembly member; Heidi Alexander MP; Jessica Lee MP; Chloe Smith MP; Rebecca Harris MP; Helen Jones MP: Emma Reynolds MP; Nicola Blackwood MP, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP and a number of local councillors in Didsbury, Manchester and Exeter, Devon, where many of the packages were posted.

Hayes, of Ilfracombe, North Devon, was only caught when he was arrested for harassing a woman last December and his DNA and finger prints were taken as he was cautioned.

His samples matched DNA from licking envelopes and his fingerprints were also found on some of the posted packages and he was arrested and charged.

The judge said the absence of threats made in the letters was of small relevance as the posting of the powder was implicit, and Hayes was not part of a group action.

But she said he had targeted women and women in public office and at a time of a General Election and did so on many occasions.

She was told Hayes had a mild learning difficulty but said he was able to Google the contact details of his various victims who came from different political parties.

Chloe Smith MP
Tory Chloe Smith's office was also targeted

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General election 2019

She accepted there was 'no political motive' but said he had been out of work, under stress, in debt and angry at women in general after a break up.

Hayes nodded as she jailed him for five years concurrent on all charges - he will serve half before being released. The maximum sentence is seven years.

Prosecutor Rachel Drake said the incidents of sending the envelopes sealed in larger envelopes and packages 'undermined our Government institutions'.

She told the court about the different victims and their staff members who were affected by the campaign.

Miss Drake said the aggravating features were the extended period of the offending aimed towards local, national and European politicians and the disruption and expense it caused.

She said Hayes, whose last address was in Brixham, Devon, and who stopped offending when he became a fairground worker, had accepted in his probation report that he had a 'hostility to women' but said his letters addressed to female politicians were opened by both men and women in Parliament and constituencyoffices as well as home addresses.

Emily Cook, defending, said Hayes was a 'simple man' who did have 'understanding of the consequences of his actions'.

She said he copied an incident in 2001 when powder was sent to a member of the Welsh Assembly but said: "He is not politically motivated. No members of a specific party was targeted."

She said he had voted Labour in the past because his father did but had not voted in recent elections or referendums.

She said in 2011 he broke up with a female partner and his probation report
stated he had 'a hatred of women at the time'.

The victims made statements revealing the distress caused to themselves and their families and staff, with one left 'shaking like a leaf'.