A man arrested in North Devon has been told he faces a prison sentence after admitting sending hoax white ‘anthrax’ powder to female MPs and councillors.

Richard Hayes, 40, of no fixed address, was arrested in Barnstaple on July 18 by counter-terrorism officers.

He appeared at Exeter Crown Court via video-link on Thursday, August 22 and admitted 16 charges of making a noxious substance hoax, contrary to Section 114 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

Hayes sent white powder and packages marked 'Anthrax' from Exeter to constituency offices of MPs and local councillors between 2011 and 2014.

The charges state that he did so 'intending to induce in a person anywhere in the world a belief that it was likely to be or to contain a noxious substance ... thereby endangering human life or to create serious risk to human health'.

Judge Peter Johnson, Honorary Recorder of Exeter, told Hayes: "These are serious matters to which you have pleaded guilty.

"You will be given the appropriate credit for those guilty pleas but your expectation should be one of a lengthy custodial sentence."

Hayes will undergo a psychiatric report and a pre-sentence report before he is sentenced by a High Court judge at Exeter Crown Court in November.

Police said the packages were examined after being sent and found to contain various non-hazardous substances including flour, protein powder and bicarbonate of soda.

Hayes was linked to the hoaxes after his DNA was taken in 2018, when he was cautioned for harassing a former partner.

His handwriting was forensically compared with the writing on 12 of the envelopes and he was arrested by officers from the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU).

Detective Sergeant Mark Wallis, from ERSOU's Counter Terrorism Policing unit, said: "I am pleased that Hayes has pleaded guilty, potentially saving his victims the strain of attending a drawn-out court case and having to re-live the shock of uncovering the powder and not knowing what it was.

"These hoaxes caused significant strain, not only on all of Hayes' victims, but also on the police and fire services, who used specialist CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) officers to deal with every incident.

"I hope his sentence will reflect the severity of his actions."

Hayes first sent a package to the joint office of Roger Williams, then-Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, and Welsh Assembly member Kirsty Williams in April 2011.

Later that year, he sent the fake powder to Heidi Alexander, then-Labour MP for Lewisham East, Baroness Sarah Ludford, then-Liberal Democrat MEP for London and Helen Jones, Labour MP for Warrington North.

He also targeted local councillors in Exeter, sending packages to Yolanda Henson, Vanessa Newcombe, Rosie Denham and Catherine Dawson.

In October 2012, he sent a package to Emma Reynolds, Labour MP for Wolverhampton North East, and Nicola Blackwood, then-Conservative MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.

The following August, Hayes sent a package to Jessica Lee, then-Conservative MP for Erewash, and Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North.

In April 2014, Hayes sent a package to Rebecca Harris, Conservative MP for Castle Point in Essex.

Howard Phillips, senior crown prosecutor from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "The CPS takes attacks upon our democratically elected representatives very seriously.

"Working closely with ERSOU's counter terrorism policing unit, we built such a strong case that Hayes had no option but to plead guilty at the earliest opportunity."

Speaking after the case, Kirsty Williams, Welsh Assembly Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, said: "Mr Hayes brought considerable distress to members of staff at the time.

"I therefore welcome that he has pleaded guilty for the crimes that he committed.

"I would like to thank the Counter Terrorism Policing unit for their thorough work on this case."