An MP who threatened to throw acid in the face of another woman during a one-sided harassment campaign has been spared an immediate jail sentence, but has been expelled from the Labour Party.
Claudia Webbe, Leicester East MP since 2019, showed no emotion as she was handed a 10-week jail term – suspended for two years – and 200 hours’ community service at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday for harassing Michelle Merritt, a long-term friend of her boyfriend, Lester Thomas, who said she needed therapy after her ordeal.
Webbe, 56, denied the allegation and said she felt like a “victim” herself due to the amount of abuse she received on social media.
At a glance: 5 key points
- Webbe was given a suspended 10-week jail term
- She will have to carry out 200 hours of community service
- Webbe denied the offences and has maintained her innocence
- She is pursuing an appeal against conviction
- Magistrate said she had shown “little remorse”
Webbe was convicted last month after the court heard she also threatened to leak naked images of Ms Merritt and made a string of phone calls in which she warned her to “get out of my relationship”. The court heard the pair had never met in person.
Webbe expelled from Labour upon sentence
Paul Goldspring, the chief magistrate, described Webbe’s behaviour as “callous and intimidatory”.
Sentencing her on Thursday, 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.
Webbe sits in the Commons as an independent after being suspended by the Labour Party over the case.
She was expelled from the party upon sentence, a Labour spokesman confirmed. It is understood the expulsion process began when she was convicted.
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.
Victim Ms Merritt told the court she felt so unsafe following Webbe’s campaign abuse, which also included silent phone calls, that she started taking taxis to and from work, and also considered moving home.
Victim was ‘scared’ to go to her door
Reading her victim personal statement from behind a curtain in court to shield herself from the defendant, Ms Merritt said: “A sad, distressing darkness has cast a huge shadow over all areas of my life.
“She (Webbe) has made me feel very vulnerable, in public, in my own home.
“I was scared to go to my door.
“Due to Ms Webbe’s position in government (sic), I don’t know what she is capable of.”
Ms Merritt, her voice breaking with emotion, 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 by a politician.”
The trial heard Webbe made the threats in a string of phone calls between September 1 2018 and April 26 last year.
In one, Webbe called Ms Merritt “a s**g”, threatened her with acid and said she would send naked pictures and videos to her daughters.
Police warned Webbe not to contact Ms Merritt, but the calls continued.
In a recorded conversation on April 25 last year, the MP could be heard saying: “I have seen all of your naked pictures, I have seen all of your relationship with Lester, get out of my relationship otherwise I will tell your whole family and show them all your pictures.”
Webbe, from Islington, north London, denied harassment, said she “would never treat women like that” and claimed she only made “courtesy calls” to warn Ms Merritt not to breach coronavirus regulations by meeting Mr Thomas.
But giving evidence from behind a screen during the trial, executive assistant Ms Merritt said she received an “angry” call from Webbe on Mother’s Day 2019, culminating in a series of threats.
Ms Merritt said: “She (Webbe) confirmed she knew where I lived and would send pictures and videos to my daughters.”
The victim 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.”
Webbe ‘disappointed’ by magistrate’s decision
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott were among those providing character testimonies supporting their one-time party colleague.
But Mr Goldspring described Webbe’s explanation of events as “frankly incredible and unbelievable”.
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.
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.”
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