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Claudia Webbe harassed woman who was having sex with MP’s partner, court told

MP Claudia Webbe arrives at Southwark Crown Court for her appeal against her harassment conviction (Aaron Chown/PA)
MP Claudia Webbe arrives at Southwark Crown Court for her appeal against her harassment conviction (Aaron Chown/PA)

The woman MP Claudia Webbe threatened with acid during an 18-month harassment campaign was having sex with the politician’s boyfriend, a court has heard.

The former Labour MP for Leicester East, 57, also allegedly said she would reveal naked pictures of 59-year-old Michelle Merritt in a string of phone calls between September 2018 and April 2020.

Prosecutors say Webbe, who sits as an independent after being expelled from the party, was driven by “obsession” and “jealousy” over her boyfriend Lester Thomas’s relationship with Ms Merritt.

The MP, who was elected in 2019, is appealing against her harassment conviction and 10-week suspended jail sentence, after she was found guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court last November following a trial.

Southwark Crown Court heard Ms Merritt’s phone has been examined by police and downloaded since the trial, revealing sexual messages between her and Mr Thomas, a consultant at Crossrail, football coach, and scout for Chelsea.

Claudia Webbe court case
MP Claudia Webbe arrives at Southwark Crown Court (Aaron Chown/PA)

Webbe, a former adviser to the National Police Chiefs Council on firearms, said she split up with Mr Thomas in March this year after learning of the messages.

“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,” she said.

“Therefore I was shocked and could not deal with that.”

The court heard that Mr Thomas bought Ms Merritt a £120 sex toy and frequently sent her pornography.

Helen Law, representing Webbe, suggested a “glaring omission” in executive assistant Ms Merritt’s accounts in police witness statements and evidence in court was that “you and he were having sex”.

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.

“Mr Thomas and I talked about sex a lot,” she said. “Other people would talk about fashion, we would talk about sex.

“May I also add I’m single, not him, and I have done nothing illegal.”

Ms Law suggested Ms Merritt’s evidence at Webbe’s trial that Mr Thomas was just a “good friend” could have been “misleading to the court”, and said: “Your phone download showed you had lied.”

The complainant said: “I had not lied about having sex with Mr Thomas. No-one asked me in the magistrates’ court.

“The basis of this whole thing is not based on my sex with Mr Thomas, it is based on being threatened and being harassed by Ms Webbe.”

Claudia Webbe
Claudia Webbe is appealing against her harassment conviction (Aaron Chown/PA)

The court heard the harassment campaign began with silent phone calls in September 2018 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 tits and pussy. You’re a slag and should be acid.”

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

In one phone call recorded by Ms Merritt on April 25, 2020, Webbe is 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.”

Webbe claims she sometimes called Ms Merritt’s phone to try to contact her boyfriend but insists the Mother’s Day call did not happen and that the recorded conversation was taken out of context in the course of a row with Mr Thomas.

Ms Law suggested to Ms Merritt: “You were nigh-on obsessed with Ms Webbe… and you were prepared to do things to her to try to get even or get revenge or because you were jealous of Ms Webbe.”

Ms Merritt replied: “No, I would say Ms Webbe was obsessed with me.”

Ms Law said: “You were prepared to lie to get what you want out of this situation, which is for Claudia Webbe to be humiliated.”

Ms Merritt said: “No, all I wanted was the calls to stop, the threats to stop.”

The appeal, which is being heard by Judge Deborah Taylor and two magistrates, continues.

Labour has previously said the party will push for a recall petition to force a by-election if Webbe does not quit the Commons, but will have to wait until the outcome of the appeal.

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