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Claudia Webbe MP loses appeal against her harassment conviction

Written by on 26 May 2022

Claudia Webbe MP has lost her court appeal against her conviction for harassing a love rival.

The 57-year-old politician, who was elected as the Labour MP for Leicester East in 2019, was found guilty in October 2021 and sentenced to 10 weeks imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Webbe sits as an independent MP after Labour expelled her following her conviction. The party has now called for her to quit as an MP.

Webbe targeted Michelle Merritt, 59, between September 2018 and April 2020.

Prosecutors said the 18-month harassment campaign was driven by “obsession” and “jealousy” over her boyfriend Lester Thomas’s relationship with executive assistant Ms Merritt.

During the trial last year at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Webbe was convicted by chief magistrate Paul Goldspring, a verdict which she later appealed.

On Thursday, Judge Deborah Taylor and two magistrates also found Webbe guilty and they dismissed her appeal.

The latest hearing took place at Southwark Crown Court, with the victim saying Webbe sent her a message reading “You’re a s*** and should be acid,” and threatened to reveal naked photographs to her family in a string of phone calls.

The court heard Ms Merritt’s phone revealed sexual messages between her and Mr Thomas, a consultant at Crossrail, football coach, and scout for Chelsea.

Webbe said she split up with Mr Thomas in March this year.

“I had no idea about the relationship between Michelle Merritt and Lester Thomas, that this relationship had been going on throughout the entire time of my relationship with Lester,” Webbe said.

Giving evidence from behind a screen, Ms Merritt admitted having sex with Mr Thomas, whom she described as a “narcissist who likes attention”, between March 2017 and July 2020.

In one phone call recorded by Ms Merritt, Webbe was heard saying: “I have seen all of your naked pictures. Get out of my relationship otherwise I will tell your whole family and show them all of your pictures.”

Judge Deborah Taylor said the court found Webbe had not “made a threat to throw acid over” Ms Merritt but that a string of silent phone calls and threats to reveal naked pictures of her had been “a course of conduct which amounted to harassment”.

Helen Law, representing Webbe, said Ms Merritt had “lied” or “mislead” the magistrates’ court when she said she and Mr Thomas were just “good friends”.

But prosecutor Susannah Stevens said: “What was going on between Michelle Merritt and Lester Thomas is actually unhelpful to the appellant’s case because Claudia Webbe’s suspicions as to all of that provide her not with a defence but with a motivation.”

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