MP Claudia Webbe avoids jail after threatening to throw acid at her boyfriend’s female friend

·4-min read
MP Claudia Webbe avoids jail after threatening to throw acid at her boyfriend’s female friend

MP Claudia Webbe has avoided jail after threatening to throw acid at a friend of her boyfriend.

Webbe, 56, was handed a suspended 10-week jail sentence and 200 hours’ community service at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.

The Leicester East MP, 56, launched a campaign of harassment against Michelle Merritt, a long-term friend of her boyfriend Lester Thomas.

She was convicted last month of harassing Ms Merritt, by threatening to throw acid in her face and release naked images of her.

Reading her victim personal statement from behind a curtain in court to shield herself from the defendant, Ms Merritt said: “She (Webbe) has made me feel very vulnerable, in public, in my own home. I was scared to go to my door.

“I had many sleepless nights. I would like to feel safe again.

“Due to Ms Webbe’s position in government (sic), I don’t know what she is capable of.”

Ms Merritt’s voice broke with emotion as she said she worried Webbe would “seriously harm” her.

She added: “My self confidence has plummeted, I have anxiety attacks, I have almost become a hermit.

“I have fallen into huge debt, I desperately wanted to move away from the area Ms Webbe said she knew I lived in.”

She added: “I am so very proud I have had the strength to continue because no woman should be threatened or harassed the way she has to me over the years, least of all a politician.”

Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring described Webbe’s behaviour as “callous and intimidatory”.

 (PA)
(PA)

He said: “You were jealous of the relationship between Lester Thomas and Michelle Merritt, and probably felt in some way threatened by it.”

He said Webbe “showed little remorse or contrition” and would have been jailed immediately were it not for her previous good character.

Defence counsel Paul Hynes QC said his client had received threats of violence on social media, as well as racist comments.

The court heard Webbe harassed Ms Merritt, making a string of threatening phone calls between September 1 2018 and April 26 last year.

In one, Webbe called Ms Merritt “a slag”, threatened her with acid and warned she would send naked pictures and videos to her daughters.

In another call, recorded by the complainant, Webbe repeatedly warned the victim to “get out of my relationship” with Mr Thomas.

Webbe, from Islington, north London, denied harassment, claiming she only made “courtesy calls” to warn Ms Merritt not to breach coronavirus regulations by meeting Mr Thomas.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott were among those providing character witnesses for the defendant.

But Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring found her guilty, and said: “I do not find the defendant to be cogent, compelling and truthful in all aspects of her evidence.

“Some of the things she said I believe were made up on the spur of the moment.”

He added: “In short, I find Ms Webbe to be vague, incoherent and at times illogical and ultimately I find her to be untruthful.”

Webbe entered the House of Commons in December 2019 after winning the seat formerly held by Labour veteran Keith Vaz.

She was suspended by the party after being charged. Labour have expelled her from the party following the sentencing.

The sentence means Webbe will face a recall petition, which could trigger a by-election if at least 10% of her constituents support it.

However, the process would have to wait until the outcome of any appeal by Webbe against her conviction, an avenue she said she is pursuing.

Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Shabana Mahmood called for her to resign as an MP.

Ms Mahmood said Labour would push for a recall petition if Ms Webbe did not quit the Commons.

She said: “It’s an incredibly serious offence and we called on her to resign as soon as she was convicted.

“She’s now been sentenced, she should do the right thing by the people of Leicester East, she’s been expelled from the Labour Party, we will have our own candidate, we’ll be calling for a recall and we will be fielding our own candidate and offering the people of Leicester a fresh choice about somebody who can represent them here in the House of Commons.”

In a statement following sentence, Webbe said: “I am very disappointed by the decision of the magistrate and want to strongly reiterate that I am innocent.

“I am lodging an appeal and despite today’s sentence I fully expect the appeal to be granted and that, ultimately, it will be successful.

“Throughout this process I have received numerous threats to my life and vile racist abuse.

“The cowards responsible for these attacks will not deter me from clearing my name.

“I want to thank constituents, family, friends and my comrades in the Labour movement for their support and solidarity, and to my legal team for their professionalism during this process.”

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