Guilty: MP Claudia Webbe harassed her partner's female friend, magistrate rules

Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe at Westminster Magistrates Court, where she appeared charged with harassment

Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe at Westminster Magistrates Court, where she appeared charged with harassment. Picture date: Wednesday October 13, 2021 - Credit: PA

Suspended Labour MP Claudia Webbe has been warned she could be facing a jail term after being found guilty of harassing her partner’s female friend.

Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe, 56, 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, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard.

She claimed she only phoned the woman to warn her not to break Covid-19 lockdown rules, but was found guilty of harassment by Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring following a two-day trial.

She has vowed to appeal the verdict.

During one call, she called Ms Merritt “a slag”, threatened her with acid and said she would send naked pictures and videos to her daughters.

In another call, recorded by the complainant, Webbe, who has been sitting 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.

Webbe, of Islington, who was councillor for Bunhill ward in Islington until May, denied harassment.

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Giving evidence today (October 13) she claimed she only made “courtesy calls” to warn Ms Merritt not to breach coronavirus regulations by meeting Mr Thomas.

“She was committing a crime, I was pointing this out. I’m the victim." she said.

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.

Giving evidence from behind a screen, the alleged victim earlier said 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.”

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.”

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.

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”.

Webbe said: “I’m not mad, I’m a member of Parliament.”

Webbe will be sentenced on November 4, and was warned by the judge she could be facing a jail term.

Specialist Prosecutor Lisa Rose, of the Crown Prosecution Service Special Crime Division which brought the case, said: “Claudia Webbe’s persistent nuisance behaviour caused considerable distress and alarm to her victim who became genuinely concerned for her safety.

“Webbe told police she did not appreciate the calls were unwanted or causing distress. However the prosecution case was that the police had issued her with a clear warning about her conduct.

“No-one should have to endure this sort of harassment. We are determined to bring perpetrators to justice and help protect victims.”

Following the verdict, Ms Webbe said she was “deeply shocked” at the outcome of the trial.

She said: “I am innocent and will appeal this verdict. As I said in court and repeat now, I have never threatened violence nor have I ever harassed anyone.”

Her lawyer, Raj Chada, head of criminal defence at social justice law firm Hodge Jones and Allen added: “We will be appealing this unjust verdict.

"The recording of the call Ms Webbe made has been taken out of context. We are sure that Ms Webbe will be vindicated at an appeal.”