MP Claudia Webbe ‘carried out campaign of harassment against woman’

The independent MP is alleged to have threatened Michelle Merritt that naked photos and videos of her would be sent to her children.

Claudia Webbe
Claudia Webbe

An MP threatened to send naked pictures of a woman to her family because she was jealous of her friendship with her partner, a court has heard.

Claudia Webbe, 56, allegedly made a string of phone calls to 59-year-old Michelle Merritt in a campaign of harassment between September 1 2018 and April 26 last year.

During one, the MP for Leicester East, called Ms Merritt “a slag”, threatened her with acid and said she would send naked pictures and videos to her daughters, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard.

Prosecutor Susannah Stevens said Webbe, who sits in the Commons as an independent after being suspended by the Labour Party, was in a relationship with Lester Thomas at the time.

“The reason for the harassment would appear to be the fact that Michelle Merritt was friends with Lester Thomas and this was an issue for the defendant Claudia Webbe,” she said.

The court heard Webbe made a series of short silent phone calls from a withheld number to Ms Merritt, who told the court she had known Mr Thomas for more than 15 years and they were “good friends”, having previously dated.

“There was a pattern that whenever I had even met with Lester Thomas, if we had gone out for a drink or something, there would be a phone call,” she said, giving evidence from behind a screen.

“When you are being called and no-one answers, it’s unnerving, especially as a woman who lives alone.”

Claudia Webbe court case
Claudia Webbe denies the allegations (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Ms Stevens said the “harassment escalated in form” on Mother’s Day, March 31 2019, when Webbe spoke to the alleged victim and asked about her relationship with Mr Thomas.

“This appears to be the defendant’s obsession – the fact Ms Merritt would not stop seeing her partner,” said the prosecutor.

The alleged victim said Webbe told her she was “Lester’s girlfriend” and then “really started shouting, ‘Why are you contacting Lester?’

“She was very, very angry at me. It was loud,” she said.

“She then started calling me a slag and saying friends don’t send pictures of their tits and pussy to other friends, and it culminated in, ‘You’re a slag and you should be acid’.

“She confirmed she knew where I lived and would send pictures and videos to my daughters.”

Webbe denies making any such threats.

Executive assistant Ms Merritt wept as she described how she was left “very shocked and very fearful” and called police, saying: “I have been threatened by a public figure with acid over the phone.”

But despite being warned by officers in April 2019, Webbe allegedly continued to make further calls to the complainant, who recorded one after ringing her back on April 25 last year.

In the call, played in court, Webbe is heard repeatedly telling Ms Merritt to “get out of my relationship”.

She also says: “I have seen all of your naked pictures,” adding: “I will show them all of your pictures.”

Ms Merritt, who told Webbe during the call that she would contact the press, said she was left feeling “scared, fearful, afraid and nervous”.

The court heard Webbe later accepted to police that she had spoken to Ms Merritt but claimed she had said those words to Mr Thomas during the course of an argument in which officers were called.

But the prosecutor said: “The Crown say the argument was over the defendant’s unhappiness with her partner’s relationship with Ms Merritt and this jealousy caused her to threaten Ms Merritt and say deeply distressing things to her.”

Paul Hynes QC, representing Webbe, suggested his client contacted Ms Merritt to tell her she and Mr Thomas should not be breaking Covid-19 lockdown regulations together from the end of March.

“I’m going to suggest you were obviously and knowingly breaking lockdown regulations with Lester Thomas from the end of March to the end of April and Ms Webbe complained about that and asked you to stop,” he said.

The complainant replied: “Ms Webbe did not ask me this question.”

Mr Hynes said: “You have conducted a little campaign against Ms Webbe, haven’t you, because for whatever reason you didn’t like the fact she was in a relationship with Lester Thomas?”

“You are incorrect,” said Ms Merritt.

“You know she is vulnerable because she is a public figure and that is why you said you were going to go to the press.”

The alleged victim replied: “No.”

Webbe, from Islington, north London, denies a single count of harassment.

She stood in the dock wearing a black suit, speaking to confirm her name, date of birth and address, before sitting next to her solicitor in the well of the court.

Webbe entered the Commons in December 2019, winning the seat formerly held by Keith Vaz, the Labour veteran who retired from Parliament 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.

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