MP accused of making acid threat to friend of her partner, court hears

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: James McCauley/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: James McCauley/Rex/Shutterstock

An MP has been accused of threatening to use acid against a woman she believed to be in a relationship with her partner, a court has heard.

Claudia Webbe, 56, allegedly became “obsessed” with Michelle Merritt due to her friendship with the Leicester East MP’s partner, Lester Thomas.

Webbe also threatened to reveal naked photographs and videos she supposedly had of Merritt to her family, Westminster magistrates court heard on Monday.

Webbe, who was elected as a Labour MP but has since had the whip withdrawn, denies the charge.

Susannah Stevens, prosecuting, said: “The reason for the harassment appeared to be the fact that Ms Merritt was friends with Lester Thomas and this was an issue for the defendant, Ms Webbe.

“The harassment initially took the form of telephone calls that were made by Ms Webbe to Ms Merritt.”

Made from a withheld number, the calls were silent and of a short duration, the court was told. They tended to occur when Merritt was with Thomas.

Stevens said: “When [Merritt] answered the call, the person on the other end would not respond and would then hang up.”

In October 2018 , Merritt received a call from a number that could be seen. She put the number into the search engine Google, and discovered it belonged to Webbe, the court was told.

“She saw this because the number was available on the internet because Claudia Webbe is a Labour MP and the phone number appears on Labour literature and also a Leicester council website.”

A friend of Merritt asked Webbe to refrain from making calls, but on 31 March 2019, the harassment escalated, the court was told, when she spoke to Merritt.

“Indeed, the 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’,” Stevens said.

“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,” Stevens said.

Merritt was so concerned that she called the police and reported the incident but requested that criminal proceedings should not be pursued, the prosecution alleged.

The police spoke to Webbe in April 2019 and said she must not have any further contact with Merritt.

The prosecution alleges that call data shows there Webbe made a further 16 calls to Merritt after April 2019.

Webbe, from Islington, north London, stood in the dock wearing a black suit, to confirm her name, date of birth and address, before sitting next to her solicitor as the case against her was opened. She denies a single count of harassment.

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 councillor in Islington between 2010 and 2021 and was a member of Labour’s ruling national executive committee.

Earlier in her career, she was a political adviser to the then London mayor Ken Livingstone. The trial, which is due to last one day in front of chief magistrate Paul Goldspring, continues.

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