MP Claudia Webbe found guilty of harassing partner’s friend with threatening phone calls during lockdown

UK

An MP accused of making threatening phone calls to her partner’s friend and threatening to send naked pictures of her to her family has been found guilty of harassment.

Claudia Webbe, 56, claimed she called Michelle Merritt because “we were in a national crisis and lockdown had to be adhered to strictly”.

The MP was accused of threatening to send naked pictures of the 59-year-old to her family because she was jealous of Ms Merritt’s friendship with her partner Lester Thomas – who Ms Webbe remains in a relationship with.

The independent Leicester East MP, who was suspended by the Labour Party, is alleged to have made a string of short silent phone calls to Ms Merritt, called her a “slag” and threatened her with acid.

Ms Webbe denied one count of harassment and said she called Ms Merritt as a “courtesy” because she was unhappy the 59-year-old had been breaching lockdown rules with Mr Thomas.

Some of the phone calls had their number withheld but some did not as Ms Webbe had dialled “121” before Ms Merritt’s number instead of “141”, which withholds the caller’s number.

The magistrate said he believes some of the things Webbe said in court were “made up in the spare of the moment”.

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“Her explanation was frankly incredible and I do not believe it,” he added.

He also asked for a pre-sentencing report before he determined her sentence because he said threatening to throw acid and send intimate pictures to someone’s family “crosses the custody” threshold.

The MP was cross-examined about a number of phone calls, including a seven-second call in March 2020 in which Ms Webbe says she told Ms Merritt: “Michelle can you please not break lockdown with Lester.”

Ms Webbe told the court: “She was committing a crime. I was pointing this out, I am the victim.”

She said as an MP she felt her “household should not be breaking lockdown”.

When asked why she did not report Ms Merritt and Mr Thomas to the police, Ms Webbe said she “gave up because they continued to meet up long after April”.

Westminster Magistrates Court heard statements on Ms Webbe’s character from the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who described the MP as a “person of good character who makes a positive contribution”.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Ms Webbe was “honest, responsible and an extremely caring person”.

Prosecutor Susannah Stevens said Ms Webbe has been harassing Ms Merrit “for a long period of time”, and there had been no mention of COVID-19 in a recorded phone call during which Ms Webbe told Ms Merritt to “get out of my relationship”.

Ms Webbe entered the Commons in December 2019, winning the seat formerly held by Keith Vaz, the Labour veteran who retired in the wake of a scandal.

She was a political adviser to then-London mayor Ken Livingstone, worked as a councillor in Islington between 2010 and 2018, and was a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee.

A sentencing date will be set in due course.

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