MP Claudia Webbe allegedly engaged in campaign of harassment against woman

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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, also allegedly called 59-year-old Michelle Merritt “a slag” during a campaign of harassment between September 1 2018 and April 26 last year.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard on Monday that Webbe, who sits in the Commons as an independent MP for Leicester East after being suspended by the Labour Party, was in a friendship 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,” said prosecutor Susannah Stevens.

She said Webbe made a string 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 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.”

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 Crown say Claudia Webbe was in such a state during this call that not only did she query the nature of the contact and fail to accept that Michelle Merritt and Lester Thomas were just friends, she then went on to say, ‘She’s a slag’, and also, ‘Should be acid’.

“The defendant further threatened Ms Merritt that naked photos and videos of her would be sent to Ms Merritt’s children.

“Ms Merritt was, perhaps not surprisingly, caused considerable distress by this call. She was alarmed and concerned for her safety.”

The alleged victim said Webbe said 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.”

The court heard that Ms Merritt reported the call to police and her employer and had to take taxis to work to feel safer. But despite being warned by officers in April 2019, Webbe allegedly made a total of 16 further calls to the complainant, including one on April 25 last year, which Ms Merritt recorded.

Ms Stevens said Webbe repeatedly ordered Ms Merritt to “get out of my relationship”, adding: “She threatens to show naked photos that she supposedly has of Ms Merritt to her family.”

The court heard Webbe later accepted to police that she had called 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.”

She explained that Webbe told police she made the short calls in an effort to contact her partner but did not realise they were unwanted or would cause distress.

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 2018 and was a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee.

Earlier in her career, she was a political adviser to 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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