A British woman has been sentenced to death in Indonesia for drug trafficking.

Lindsay Sandiford, 56, originally from Redcar in Teesside, was arrested in May last year after police in Bali said they found 10.6lb (4.8kg) of cocaine worth £1.6 million in the lining of her suitcase.

The sentence prompted gasps of surprise in Denpasar District Court. Not even the prosecution had been seeking the death penalty. Sandiford wept as judges handed down the sentence and refused to speak to reporters on her way back to prison, covering her face with a scarf.

She had previously claimed in court that she was forced into taking the drugs into the country by gangsters who were threatening to hurt one of her children. Sandiford's lawyers are expected to appeal against the sentence.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "We can confirm that a British national is facing the death penalty in Indonesia. We remain in close contact with that national and continue to provide consular assistance. The UK remains strongly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances."

Delivering the sentence, a panel headed by Judge Amser Simanjuntak concluded that Sandiford had damaged the image of Bali as a tourist destination and weakened the government's anti-drugs programme. The judge told the court: "We found no reason to lighten her sentence."

Three other Britons were arrested at the same time as Sandiford in a sting operation. Julian Ponder and Rachel Dougall were accused of being involved in the same smuggling operation. A verdict is expected in the trial of Ponder on Wednesday.

Sandiford's MP said he would seek to raise her sentence with Foreign Secretary William Hague during Foreign Office Questions in the House of Commons. Martin Horwood, Lib Dem MP for Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire, where she previously lived, said the sentence came as a shock.

Human rights charity Reprieve, which is assisting Sandiford, urged the Government to support her appeal.

Investigator Harriet McCulloch said: "She has co-operated fully with the Indonesian authorities but has been sentenced to death while the gang operating in the UK, Thailand and Indonesia remain free to target other vulnerable people."