A Briton jailed for life for spying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pleaded guilty when he was confronted with “compelling” evidence, prosecutors say.

Matthew Hedges, 31, always said he was innocent and had been researching the country’s security strategy for a PhD.

The verdict angered the UK government, triggering a diplomatic row with the UAE, a long standing ally.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt urgently wants a “call with Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed”.

He feels personally “betrayed” by the verdict as he was given assurances only nine days ago in a meeting with the Emirates’ Crown Prince that this would not be the outcome of the case, the BBC’s James Robbins said.

Mr Hunt has pledged to meet Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada on Thursday

He also said he had raised the case with the “highest levels of the UAE government”, adding the verdict was “not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom, and runs contrary to earlier assurances”.

But in a statement, UAE Attorney General Dr Hamad Saif Al Shamsi, said Hedges had pleaded guilty to all charges after the court presented him with “compelling legal evidence concluded after thorough judicial investigations”.

”The defendant confessed in detail to his crimes during investigations whereby he was accorded his full rights and assurances as per the UAE Constitution and state laws to fair and transparent trial,” he said.

Dr Al Shamsi also said Hedges was in court with representatives from the British Embassy and he “exhausted all methods of defence by his lawyer during the trial”.

Hedges’ family however, said that during the first six weeks of his detention he was interrogated without a lawyer and consular access was unavailable.

During this time he was made to sign a document in Arabic which transpired to be a confession, they said.

“Matthew does not speak or read Arabic,” the family added.