MP Claudia Webbe loses harassment conviction appeal - but sentence reduced
- Credit: PA
Former Islington councillor and disgraced MP Claudia Webbe has lost her appeal against her conviction for harassing a love rival.
Her sentence, however, has been reduced and she no longer faces the prospect of jail time, after a judge found she did not threaten the victim with acid.
Webbe appealed after a court found that she targeted Michelle Merritt, 59, between September 2018 and April 2020.
Prosecutors said the 18-month harassment campaign was driven by “obsession” and “jealousy” over her boyfriend Lester Thomas’s relationship with executive assistant Ms Merritt.
The victim said Webbe had branded her a “slag” who “should be acid” and threatened to reveal naked photographs to her family in a string of phone calls.
Webbe, a former adviser to the National Police Chiefs’ Council on firearms, was found guilty of harassment by Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring and handed a 10-week suspended jail sentence following a trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court last year.
Today (May 26), following a hearing at Southwark Crown Court, the MP's appeal was dismissed by Judge Deborah Taylor and two magistrates.
But the judge reduced the suspended sentence to a 12-month community order of 80 hours unpaid work - although Webbe has already carried out 150 hours - and cut the compensation from £1,000 to £50.
The judge said the court found Webbe had not “made a threat to throw acid over” Ms Merritt but that a string of silent phone calls and threats to reveal naked pictures of her had been “a course of conduct which amounted to harassment”.
Webbe, who entered the Commons in December 2019, currently represents Leicester East as an independent after she was expelled from the Labour Party.
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Following her conviction, Labour said it would push for a recall petition as a result of the suspended custodial sentence originally imposed.
The petition would have forced a by-election, however the reduced, non-custodial sentence means she now avoids that prospect - although Labour has called for her to quit voluntarily.
The MP had arrived at her magistrates’ court trial holding hands with Mr Thomas, who sat in the public gallery to hear his partner claim she was the victim of “domestic abuse and coercive control”.
Mr Thomas -a consultant at Crossrail, football coach and scout for Chelsea FC - had been expected to give evidence for the first time in Webbe’s appeal.
But the politician said she had split up with him in March this year, when new sexual messages between Mr Thomas and Ms Webbe were discovered.
Giving evidence from behind a screen, Ms Merritt admitted having sex with Mr Thomas - who she described as a “narcissist who likes attention” - between March 2017 and July 2020.
The harassment began with silent phone calls in September 2018 and then “escalated” on March 31 - Mother’s Day - the following year when Webbe questioned why Ms Merritt was in touch with her boyfriend.
The court heard that Ms Merritt called police to report “I have been threatened by a public figure with acid”, but received 17 more phone calls lasting 14 seconds or less from Webbe after the MP was warned to stop contacting her.