'I’m not mad. I’m an MP': Claudia Webbe harassment trial continues
- Credit: PA
A suspended Labour MP accused of harassing her partner’s female friend has claimed she only phoned the woman to warn her not to break Covid-19 lockdown rules.
Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe, 56, allegedly made a string of calls to 59-year-old Michelle Merritt between September 1, 2018 and April 26 last year because she was jealous of her friendship with her boyfriend, Lester Thomas.
During one, she called Ms Merritt “a slag”, threatened her with acid and said she would send naked pictures and videos to her daughters, Westminster Magistrates’ Court has heard.
In another call, recorded by the complainant, Ms Webbe, who sits in the Commons as an independent after being suspended by the Labour Party, is heard telling Ms Merritt to “get out of my relationship” some 11 times.
Ms Webbe, from Islington, who was a councillor in the borough until May, doing the job alongside her job as an MP, denies harassment.
Giving evidence this afternoon (October 13) she claimed she only made “courtesy calls” to warn Ms Merritt not to breach coronavirus regulations by meeting Mr Thomas.
“We were in a national lockdown and so I asked her not to break lockdown with Lester,” she said.
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“She was committing a crime, I was pointing this out. I’m the victim.”
Ms Webbe, who entered the Commons in December 2019 after winning the seat formerly held by Labour veteran Keith Vaz, was living with Mr Thomas, a consultant at Crossrail, football coach, and scout for Chelsea, at the time of the allegations.
She denied ever deliberately making silent phone calls from a withheld number or threatening Ms Merritt in a call on Mother’s Day, March 31, 2019.
Giving evidence from behind a screen, the alleged victim earlier said Ms Webbe told her she was “Lester’s girlfriend” in an “angry” call, culminating in: “You’re a slag and you should be acid.”
Ms Merritt said: “She confirmed she knew where I lived and would send pictures and videos to my daughters.”
Ms Webbe claimed she had twice made “courtesy calls” to warn Ms Merritt before the complainant recorded a phone conversation on April 25 last year.
The MP can be heard saying: “I have seen all of your naked pictures, I have seen all of your relationship with Lester… Get out of my relationship otherwise I will tell your whole family and show them all your pictures.”
Ms Webbe claimed she was in an argument with Mr Thomas at the time and had been referring to a picture of him “naked from the waist up” taken while he holidayed in St Lucia.
She said she was telling Ms Merritt to get out of the relationship in the context of an “inappropriate bubble” during lockdown.
“It was the third time of breaching lockdown so I was angry with Lester, I was talking to him, we got into an argument,” Ms Webbe said.
“I was asking her please don’t break lockdown with Lester.”
Ms Webbe claimed she was the victim of “domestic abuse and coercive control” and said she was being “goaded and gaslighted” during the row, which resulted in police being called after a neighbour reported her screams.
During the call, Mr Thomas can be heard asking his partner: “Are you mad?”
Prosecutor Susannah Stevens suggested to the MP the comment was made “because you had gone mad”.
Ms Webbe said: “I’m not mad. I’m a member of Parliament.”
Paul Hynes QC, defending, read out a string of character references from figures including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.
Ms Abbott said Ms Webbe was “very committed to working to support women”, describing her “warm, empathetic manner”.
Ms Abbott added: “I regard her as a very honest woman.”
Mr Corbyn said Ms Webbe was “very committed to ensuring the administration of justice is done” and prepared to “state uncomfortable truths when it matters”.
He added: “I have no hesitation in recommending her as a person of good character who makes a positive contribution to our world.”
The trial continues.