This undated family handout photo shows Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tejada. Hedges, a 31-year-old PhD student in Middle Eastern Studies at Durham University, was arrested at Dubai Airport on May 5, 2018. Picture: Daniela Tejada via AP

Abu Dhabi - British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was "deeply disappointed" after a court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sentenced a British academic researcher to life in prison for spying.

Wednesday's verdict against Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old PhD student at Britain's Durham University, was issued by Abu Dhabi's Court of Appeal.

Hedges was arrested at Dubai airport on May 5 and referred in October to trial by the UAE attorney general on charges of "spying for a foreign state in an act that jeopardizes the military, economic and political position of the UAE."

"The accused came to the UAE under the guise of being an academic researcher to secure confidential information to potentially pass to a foreign country," Attorney General Hamad Saif Al Shamsi said earlier.

In London, May told the British parliament that her government was "deeply disappointed and concerned" by the sentencing.

"We will continue to do all we can to support [his family] ... and we will continue to raise this matter at the highest level," she said.

"[This is] not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom and runs contrary to earlier assurances," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said of Wednesday's verdict.

"I have repeatedly made clear that the handling of this case by the UAE authorities will have repercussions for the relationship between our two countries, which has to be built on trust," Hunt said in a statement.

"I regret the fact that we have reached this position and I urge the UAE to reconsider."

Hedges was researching the impact of the Arab Spring on the UAE's foreign policy and security strategy, The Times reported last month.

He visited the country "exclusively for academic research purposes," his wife, Daniela Tejada, told the newspaper, adding that Hedges had been held in solitary confinement for five months.

The court also ruled that Hedges be expelled to his country after serving the life sentence, which amounts to 25 years in UAE.

The verdict could be appealed within 30 days before the Federal Supreme Court.


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