Ex-Labour MP Claudia Webbe loses appeal against harassment conviction

The former Labour MP Claudia Webbe has lost her appeal against her conviction for harassing a love rival.

Webbe, who represents her Leicester East constituency as an independent after being expelled from the party, was given a suspended prison sentence for harassing Michelle Merritt between September 2018 and April 2020.

Op Donderdag, after a hearing at Southwark crown court, her appeal was dismissed by Judge Deborah Taylor and two magistrates.

Labour previously said the party would push for a recall petition to force a byelection if Webbe did not resign after the appeal.

Prosecutors said the 18-month harassment campaign was driven by “obsession” and “jealousy” over her boyfriend Lester Thomas’s relationship with Merritt, a 59-year-old executive assistant.

The court heard how Webbe called Merritt 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 after a trial at Westminster magistrates court last year.

The judge said the court found Webbe had not “made a threat to throw acid over” 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 was elected in December 2019, winning the seat formerly held by Labour veteran Keith Vaz, who retired from parliament in the wake of a scandal.

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 Thomas and Merritt were discovered.

Thomas sat in the public gallery as Webbe claimed she was the victim of “domestic abuse and coercive control”.

Giving evidence from behind a screen, Merritt admitted having sex with Thomaswho she described as a “narcissist who likes attention”between March 2017 and July 2020.

Webbe said: “I had no idea about the relationship between Michelle Merritt and Lester Thomas, that this relationship had been going on throughout the entire time of my relationship with Lester. Therefore, I was shocked and could not deal with that.”

The MP’s barrister, Helen Law, suggested Merritt had “lied” or “misled” the magistrates court when she said she and Thomas were just “good friends”.

But prosecutor Susannah Stevens said: “What was going on between Michelle Merritt and Lester Thomas is actually unhelpful to the appellant’s case because Claudia Webbe’s suspicions as to all of that provide her not with a defence but with a motivation.”

The court heard that the harassment began with silent phone calls in September 2018, and then “escalated” on 31 March the following year when Merritt said Webbe told her: “Friends don’t send friends pictures of their tits and pussy. You’re a slag and should be acid.”

The court heard 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.

In one phone call made and recorded by Merritt on 25 April 2020, Webbe is heard saying: “I have seen all of your naked pictures. Get out of my relationship otherwise I will tell your whole family and show them all of your pictures.”

Webbe will be sentenced later on Thursday.

Kommentaar gesluit.