An anthrax hoaxer from Ilfracombe has been jailed for a three year terror campaign that targeted female politicians.

Fairground worker Richard Hayes sent 16 envelopes full of white powder to MPs, MEPs and councillors and left a trail of chaos across Britain.

Some of the packages were marked with the word 'anthrax' and many caused buildings, including a hospital accident and emergency department, to be put into lockdown by police.

Hayes, aged 40, now of Marina Drive, Brixham, admitted 16 counts under section 11 of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act of hoax packages with the intent to cause fear of serious harm or death.

He was jailed for five years by Mrs Justice May at Exeter Crown Court, who told him that a severe sentence was necessary to deter others.

She said: "On one occasion an MP went to hospital where the accident and emergency department was put into lockdown and in another an entire street was closed.

"These were sustained, repeated offences committed against women in public office. I accept it was not done with any political motive, it was done because the victims were easily identifiable at a time when you were angry against women in general as a result of a relationship."

Specialist officers from police and fire service chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response teams were sent to some of the incidents while wearing full protective gear, adding to the fear of victims.

In one case an entire street in central London was cordoned off by police for several hours.

In fact, all the packages contained flour, bicarbonate of soda, or other harmless white powders and nobody suffered any physical harm from his attacks.

All of the intended victims were high profile women and one councillor was so shocked that she withdrew from public office and chose not to stand for election again.

They included seven MPs: Labour's Heidi Alexander, who is now deputy Mayor of London, fellow Labour MPs Helen Jones and Emma Reynolds, Conservatives Nicola Blackwood, Jessica Lee, Chloe Smith, and Rebecca Harris.

Other packages were sent to Liberal Democrat Welsh Assembly member Kirsty Williams, Liberal Democrat MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford; Didsbury Liberal Democrat councillor Lianne Williams, and four Exeter councillors.

They are Conservative Yolande Henson, Lib Dem Vanessa Newcombe, Labour members Rosie Denham, and Catherine Dawson, who gave up her seat because she no longer wanted to be in the public eye, as a result.

Police recovered DNA from the packages but it did not match anyone on their database at the time, but it later matched to Hayes after he was arrested and cautioned for harassment during a domestic incident at his home in North Devon, earlier in 2019.

A sample of DNA was taken as part of the normal process of being arrested and processed by the police. It matched that of the hoaxer and he admitted he had sent the packages.

Hayes was living in Exeter and Ilfracombe when he sent the substances and claimed he did so when he had lost his job as a bus driver and was depressed about being in debt to payday loans companies.

He had a grudge against women because of the break up of a relationship and his inability to start a new one.

Emily Cook, defending, said Hayes had lost his job at the time, a relationship had failed, and he had got into debt after seeing payday loans advertisements while watching daytime television.

She said he had always been fascinated with fairgrounds and the hoaxes stopped when he got a job at a fair in 2015, where he was much more happy and stable. He plans to return to it when he is released.

She said the hoaxes were all the result of his confused mental state and had nothing to do with politics. All the recipients were women but they came from all three main parties.

She said he did not hate women but was upset at the time by his inability to form and retain a normal relationship, possibly because of a mild learning difficulty.