'We’ve been through hell and back' - says wife of former UAE detainee from Exeter

Daniela Tejada tweeted this photo after being reunited with her husband Matthew Hedges. Credit: Twitter / @dtejadav

An academic from Exeter who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the United Arab Emirates for spying and then pardoned thanked his wife and everyone who helped "securing my release" as he landed back in the UK.

Matthew Hedges arrived on Tuesday morning, after a high-profile battle with the Gulf state ally. His family and colleagues denied claims by officials that he is an MI6 spy.

His wife, Daniele Tejada tweeted her thanks and this photo of the couple upon his return:

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

The student, currently doing his PhD at Durham University, was sentenced on Wednesday after being arrested at Dubai Airport as he tried to leave on the 5th of May.

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

After landing in the UK, Mr Hedges praised his Credit: Family photo

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

She thanked the international community, international media, embassy in the UAE and the Foreign Office for the "overwhelming support".

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.

A UAE official said Mr Hedges's pardon came in response to an appeal for clemency by the family. Credit: ITV News

An official told reporters in Abu Dhabi that Mr Hedges was "100% a full-time 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."

Exeter University had said they were pleased with Matthew Hedges's pardon. Credit: ITV West Country

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 husband 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 UAE-UK bilateral relationship", the WAM Emirates news agency reported.

Ms Tejada continually rejected the accusation that her husband was a spy. Credit: Family photo

Professor Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor of Durham University, said staff were "absolutely delighted" to learn of the news.