Labour Party calls on Claudia Webbe to resign as MP

MP for Leicester East Claudia Webbe leaves Westminster Magistrates Court, London, where was charged with harassment

MP for Leicester East Claudia Webbe leaves Westminster Magistrates Court, London, where was charged with harassment. Picture date: Monday September 27, 2021. - Credit: PA

Claudia Webbe has been expelled from the Labour Party after she was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence for a harassment campaign born out of jealousy.

Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Shabana Mahmood called on Webbe to resign as an MP, and said the party would push for a recall petition to force a by-election if she does not quit the Commons.

Webbe, who has been Leicester East MP since 2019, was handed a 10-week jail term – suspended for two years – and 200 hours’ community service at Westminster Magistrates’ Court yesterday afternoon (November 4) for harassing Michelle Merritt, a long-term friend of her boyfriend, Lester Thomas, who said she needed therapy after her ordeal.

Ms Mahmood said: “It’s an incredibly serious offence and we called on her to resign as soon as she was convicted.

“She’s now been sentenced, she should do the right thing by the people of Leicester East. 

"We will have our own candidate, we’ll be calling for a recall and we will be fielding our own candidate and offering the people of Leicester a fresh choice about somebody who can represent them here in the House of Commons.”

However Ms Webbe, of Islington, who was a councillor in Bunhill ward until May this year, is protesting her innocence and plans to appeal the conviction. 

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In a statement following sentence yesterday, she said: “I am very disappointed by the decision of the magistrate and want to strongly reiterate that I am innocent.

“I am lodging an appeal and despite today’s sentence I fully expect the appeal to be granted and that, ultimately, it will be successful

“Throughout this process I have received numerous threats to my life and vile racist abuse.

“The cowards responsible for these attacks will not deter me from clearing my name.

“I want to thank constituents, family, friends and my comrades in the Labour movement for their support and solidarity, and to my legal team for their professionalism during this process.”

At the hearing, Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring said he found it “odd and concerning” that the probation service report said Webbe felt like a victim herself.

The district judge said he counted four occasions when Webbe referred to herself as “the victim” during her testimony from the witness box at the trial.

Passing sentence, he described Webbe’s behaviour as “callous and intimidatory”.

He said: “You were jealous of the relationship between Lester Thomas and Michelle Merritt, and probably felt in some way threatened by it.”

He said Webbe “showed little remorse or contrition” and would have been jailed immediately were it not for her previous good character.

Webbe was also ordered to pay £3,128 in costs and surcharges.

Her defence counsel, Paul Hynes QC, told the court she had a salary of £81,000, but said his client is “in significant personal debt” pre-dating her time as an MP and offered to pay the fine in £100 increments every 28 days.

However, the chief magistrate said that was “not going to cut it” for someone on Webbe’s salary, and ordered it be paid within six months.

Prosecutor Susannah Stevens had said Webbe's offending was “persistent … and over a prolonged period”, and that her conduct caused psychological harm and distress to the victim, Michelle Merritt.

Reading her victim personal statement from behind a curtain in court to shield herself from the defendant, Ms Merritt said: “She (Webbe) has made me feel very vulnerable, in public, in my own home. I was scared to go to my door.

“Due to Ms Webbe’s position in government (sic), I don’t know what she is capable of.”

Her voice broke with emotion as she said she worried Webbe would “seriously harm” her.

She added: “My self confidence has plummeted, I have anxiety attacks, I have almost become a hermit.

“I have fallen into huge debt, I desperately wanted to move away from the area Ms Webbe said she knew I lived in.”

She added: “I am so very proud I have had the strength to continue because no woman should be threatened or harassed the way she has to me over the years, least of all a politician.”