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_ Love rival's affair with ex-Labour MP Claudia Webbe's partner reveals her motive, court hears

_ Love rival's affair with ex-Labour MP Claudia Webbe's partner reveals her motive, court hears

Shamed MP Claudia Webbe today lost her appeal against a conviction for threatening to post nude pictures of her love rival who she branded a 's**g' in an 18-month harassment campaign driven by 'obsession and jealousy'. 

Webbe, 57, was handed a ten-week suspended jail sentence last year after being convicted of harassing Michelle Merritt, 59, with abusive phone calls after the executive assistant began a relationship with her boyfriend, Lester Thomas. 

Webbe was expelled from the Labour Party after being found guilty, but is still claiming £84,000 worth of taxpayers' money a year to represent her Leicester East constituency as an independent. 

Following her failed appeal she may now be kicked out of Parliament by her constituents. If a recall petition is opened and 10 per cent of Webbe's constituents vote for her to be recalled this would trigger a by-election. 

Labour has previously called for her to step down and backed a move to recall her if she fails to do so. 

Sat at the back of court in a black blazer and skirt, Webbe, a former adviser to the National Police Chiefs' Council on firearms, showed no emotion today upon hearing her appeal had failed. 

Ms Merritt said Webbe left her 'fearing for her life', and the MP was found guilty of harassment by Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring and handed a 10-week suspended jail sentence following a trial at Westminster Magistrates' Court last year.

Today, following an appeal hearing at Southwark Crown Court, she was again found guilty by Judge Deborah Taylor and two magistrates. She will sentence Webbe, who entered the Commons in December 2019 after taking over from Keith Vaz, later today. 

The court heard that the harassment began with silent phone calls in September 2018, and then 'escalated' on March 31, Mother's Day, the following year when Webbe questioned why Ms Merritt was in touch with her boyfriend.

Ms Merritt said Webbe told her: 'Friends don't send friends pictures of their t**s and p***y. You're a s**g and should be acid.'

The court heard that Ms Merritt called police to report 'I have been threatened by a public figure with acid', but received 17 more phone calls lasting 14 seconds or less from Webbe after the MP was warned to stop contacting her.

In one phone call made and recorded by Ms Merritt on April 25, 2020, Webbe is heard telling her rival to 'get out of my relationship' some nine times.

'I have seen all of your naked pictures,' she says. 'Get out of my relationship otherwise I will tell your whole family and show them all of your pictures.' 

Referring to the 'you should be acid comment', Judge Taylor said: 'This is a peculiar construction..... in our view indicative of a misunderstanding.

Despite this, she said 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'.

Southwark Crown Court heard yesterday that the MP's suspicions she was being cheated on were warranted, after Ms Merritt admitted that she had been having sex with Mr Thomas for years.

Webbe sat stony-faced in court as it emerged that Mr Thomas had exchanged sexual messages with Ms Merritt, given her a £120 sex toy and frequently sent her pornography.

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

Webbe said: '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.

'Therefore, I was shocked and could not deal with that.' 

The MP's barrister, Helen Law, suggested Ms Merritt had 'lied' or 'misled' 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.'.

Of Ms Merritt's new evidence, Ms Stevens said: 'All of that...is relevant solely as to credibility because actually it could be said that 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.'

Webbe told the court yesterday that she had 'suspicions' about them but did not know they were having sex.

'At the time of the lockdown I may have started to begin to think that something was not right but apart from that I had no idea that they were anything more than friends,' she said.

Ms Stevens said people are not always 'completely forthcoming' with information about a sexual relationship.

'It doesn't automatically follow that if you haven't been forthcoming of sexual relations... that means that you have been untruthful and have lied about the acts of harassment.'

The court was reminded of the recorded phone conversation between Webbe and Ms Merritt in April 2020 in which the politician yelled nine times down the phone: 'Get out of my relationship.'

In the call, played to the court on the first day of appeal, Webbe also said: 'I have seen all of your posts, 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 of your pictures.'

Ms Stevens said this was a significant piece of 'corroborative and supporting evidence' which can make the panel 'sure' that Webbe harassed Ms Merritt on 25 April, 2020.

The barrister added that the call made clear Webbe's 'animus and ill feeling' towards Ms Merritt.

Webbe earlier told the court that the threats to expose intimate images was directed at her then-boyfriend, Mr Thomas, who she was arguing with simultaneously.

Ms Stevens said the recording lends 'particular support' to the allegation that there was a similar incidence of harassment via a phone call made to Ms Merritt on Mothers' Day 2019, 31 March.

It is alleged that, during this conversation, Webbe called Ms Merritt a 's**g', threatened to send naked images of her to her family and threatened to throw acid on her.  

Ms Merritt reported the call to the police the same day.

Yesterday, Webbe denied ever making such a call or delivering such threats.      

Today, Helen Law, for Webbe, called Ms Merritt 'a good actress' who lied to make Webbe seem 'unhinged' to aggravate the case against her.

'There were five occasions before she gave evidence to this court when Michelle Merritt, as a minimum, had the opportunity to record in her account that she was having sex with Mr Thomas,' she said.  

Ms Law said that the confession was made after the police downloaded and disclosed the contents of Ms Merritt's phone to Webbe's defence team.

This meant that Ms Merritt 'knew she would have to admit' her sexual relationship with the MP's then-boyfriend, the court heard.

'Her accounts on every occasion prior to that were lies.'

Ms Merritt had told the court, both during the trial and the appeal, that she was a woman 'in fear' of Webbe's behaviour.

Webbe's barrister disputed this.

Today, the panel said Ms Merritt was an 'unsatisfactory witness' who had 'told lies' about her relationship with Mr Thomas but accepted parts of her evidence. 

Reading from the victim impact statement Ms Merritt delivered at Webbe's sentencing in November 2021, Ms Law said: 'This whole incident has caused me to stop my relationship with Lester Thomas.

'He was a close friend of mine and Claudia has caused me to stop my friendship.'

The court heard today that months before the sentencing, Ms Merritt went to the police station to sign the statement in which those assertions were made.

Ms Law said that before she headed off to the police station to do so,

Ms Merritt texted Mr Thomas: 'Is that it? You really have been whipped?'

'She is the one trying to reignite that relationship,' Ms Law said. 'She is not in fear. And within days they are where they were before, having sex, sex chats, meeting up.

'The only reason it ends is not because Michelle Merritt is in fear but because of the escalation of the police investigation in the middle of July.'

Ms Law added that Ms Merritt's lies were 'intended to aggravate' allegations against Webbe.

She urged the panel to be 'careful' in relying on anything Ms Merritt has said.

But they rejected Webbe's appeal and reconfirmed her conviction.    


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