'I was not jealous': MP Claudia Webbe denies harassment charge
- Credit: PA
The MP who allegedly threatened to send naked pictures of a woman to her family said she would "never treat another woman like that".
Claudia Webbe, 56, who lives in Islington, allegedly made a string of phone calls to 59-year-old Michelle Merritt in a campaign of harassment between September 1 2018 and April 26 last year.
During one, the MP for Leicester East and former Islington councillor, allegedly called Ms Merritt “a slag”, threatened her with acid and said she would send naked pictures and videos of Ms Merritt to her daughters, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard on Tuesday (September 27).
Prosecutor Susannah Stevens said Ms Webbe, who sits in the Commons as an independent after being suspended by the Labour Party, harassed Ms Merritt because she was jealous of her friendship with the MP’s partner, Lester Thomas.
Ms Merritt told the court she had known Mr Thomas for more than 15 years and they were “good friends”, having previously dated.
The prosecutor said Webbe made a series of silent phone calls from a withheld number before the “harassment escalated” on Mother’s Day, March 31, 2019.
Giving evidence from behind a screen, the alleged victim said Webbe told her she was “Lester’s girlfriend” and then “really started shouting, ‘Why are you contacting Lester?’
“She was very, very angry at me. It was loud,” she said.
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“She then started calling me a slag and saying friends don’t send pictures of their tits and pussy to other friends, and it culminated in; ‘You’re a slag and you should be acid’.
“She confirmed she knew where I lived and would send pictures and videos to my daughters.”
Executive assistant Ms Merritt wept as she described how she was left “very shocked and very fearful” and called police, saying: “I have been threatened by a public figure with acid over the phone.”
The court heard Ms Webbe continued to make further calls to the complainant despite apparently being warned by an officer and Ms Merritt recorded one after ringing her back on April 25 last year.
In the call, played in court, Ms Webbe is heard repeatedly telling Ms Merritt to “get out of my relationship”.
She also says: “I have seen all of your naked pictures,” adding: “I will show them all of your pictures.”
She denies a single count of harassment and giving evidence said: “I have never attempted to threaten Michelle Merritt. I have never sought to cause her any anxiety or concern with an actual threat.”
Ms Webbe, who at the time was living with Mr Thomas, a consultant at Crossrail, football coach, and scout for Chelsea, denied ever deliberately making silent phone calls from a withheld number.
She said she was aware Ms Merritt was friends with her partner but “didn’t have any concerns” about their relationship, adding: “I was not jealous.”
“I have actually never had any concerns about any other person in Lester’s life because Lester is a very open person and having displayed his affections for me on every social media in a public way,” Ms Webbe said.
She denied making threats in the Mother’s Day phone call, telling the court: “I didn’t do any of that.
“I have never sworn in my life, I don’t use expletives, I would never treat women like that.
“I spent my lifetime campaigning for the rights of women, for challenging this type of behaviour and this is not something that is in my character and not something I would ever do.
“These terms and these words are not my words. I would never, ever use such expletives, such derogatory terms about another person, let alone another woman.”
Ms Webbe said she had received a phone call from police following Ms Merritt’s complaint but said it was unclear, not significant, and that she had not been “warned off any further contact”.
She claimed the recorded phone call has been taken out of context, having occurred while she was arguing with Mr Thomas about breaching the Covid-19 lockdown with Ms Merritt.
“My anger on that particular day was directed towards Lester,” she said.
“It’s not my finest moment. I listened to the tape earlier. I’m embarrassed by it.”
Ms Webbe entered the Commons in December 2019, winning the seat formerly held by Keith Vaz, the Labour veteran who retired from Parliament in the wake of a scandal.
She was a political adviser to then-London mayor Ken Livingstone, worked as a councillor in Islington until May, and was a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee.
Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring adjourned the case to October 13, when the trial continues.