Former Labour MP Claudia Webbe has been found guilty of harassment after threatening to throw acid at her boyfriend’s female friend.
Ms Webbe, 56, was suspended from the Labour Party in September 2020 over the harassment charge and has since been sitting in the House of Commons as the independent MP for Leicester East. She was found guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday of harassment against Michelle Merritt, 59, and may face a prison sentence.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court had heard that between September 1st, 2018, and April 26th, 2020, Ms Webbe had made a series of threatening and short, silent phone calls to Ms Merritt, a former girlfriend of Ms Webbe’s boyfriend Lester Thomas who remained friends with him.
The court heard that Webbe was jealous of Ms Merritt’s continued friendship with Mr Thomas, and during the calls, some of which were recorded, she had threatened to throw acid at her perceived love rival, as well as send nude photographs of the victim to her daughters, according to Sky News.
Prosecutor Susannah Stevens had told the court late last month: “[T]he crown say that Claudia Webbe was in such a state during this call that not only did she query the nature of the contact and refuse to accept that Ms Merritt and Lester Thomas were just friends, she then went on to say that Ms Merritt was a ‘slag’ and she should ‘be acid’.”
“The defendant further threatened Ms Merritt that naked photographs and videos of her would be sent to Ms Merritt’s children. The court will hear that Michelle was, perhaps not surprisingly, caused considerable distress by this call,” Ms Stevens added.
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The suspended Labour MP denied the charges, claiming that she was only calling the woman as a “courtesy” because Merritt had been breaking lockdown restrictions, which at the time banned households mixing, by meeting Mr Thomas.
Ms Webbe had alleged that she had made the phone called because “we were in a national crisis and lockdown had to be adhered to strictly”, going on to claim that, in fact, she was the victim.
“She was committing a crime. I was pointing this out, I am the victim,” Ms Webbe told the court.
Webbe was photographed entering court holding Mr Thomas’s hand, with reports the couple are still together, but the Leicester MP had accused her boyfriend of domestic violence from the witness box.
“I was being goaded and gaslighted. This is all about domestic abuse and coercive control,” Webbe told the court, according to The Times, adding: “I am not mad, I am a Member of Parliament.”
She then claimed she did not inform the police because “I did not trust the police to keep black men alive, to treat domestic abuse seriously.”
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Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring has said he believed some of the things Ms Webbe had said in court were fabricated, saying: “Her explanation was frankly incredible and I do not believe it.”
Mr Goldspring had also requested a pre-sentencing report before Ms Webbe is formally punished at a hearing date to be determined, with the judge noting that threatening to send naked pictures to family members and to throw acid “crosses the custody” threshold.
Ms Webbe entered the House of Commons in the December 2019 General Election, winning the Leicester East seat from former Labour MP Keith Vaz, who had decided not to stand for reelection after he was suspended from Parliament for “expressing willingness to buy cocaine for male prostitutes”.
The MP said that she will continue to represent her constituents while she appeals the conviction, but the Labour Party has urged her to step down from her seat, with a spokesman saying: “The Labour Party strongly condemns Claudia Webbe’s actions and she should resign.”
Labour List notes that following a conviction for a serious crime, the next stage in the party disciplinary process is exclusion from Labour.
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