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MP split with boyfriend who had sex with woman she was convicted of harassing

Claudia Webbe (Aaron Chown/PA)
Claudia Webbe (Aaron Chown/PA)

Former Labour MP Claudia Webbe split up with her boyfriend after learning he was having sex with the woman she was found guilty of harassing, a court has heard.

The MP for Leicester East, 57, who sits as an independent in the Commons after being expelled from the Labour Party, is appealing against the conviction and 10-week suspended jail sentence.

She allegedly threatened to throw acid at and reveal naked pictures of 59-year-old executive assistant Michelle Merritt in a string of phone calls between September 2018 and April 2020.

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

Ms Merritt’s phone data has been examined by police since last year’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court trial, revealing sexual messages exchanged with Mr Thomas, a consultant at Crossrail, football coach and scout for Chelsea FC.

Southwark Crown Court
The trial is being heard at Southwark Crown Court (Victoria Jones/PA)

Webbe, a former adviser to the National Police Chiefs’ Council on firearms, told Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday that 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 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.

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.”

Ms Merritt 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.”

The court heard the harassment 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 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 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, who broke down while giving evidence, claims she sometimes called Ms Merritt’s phone to try to contact her boyfriend but insists the Mother’s Day call did not happen.

She told the court she has “never used expletives or sworn in my life”, because her parents were born in Nevis, a Caribbean island where swearing is a crime, a law which saw rapper 50 Cent held in 2016.

Webbe said her birthday is on International Women’s Day, adding: “I have always been proud to celebrate the rights of women. I have always championed women’s rights.”

She told the court that the April 25 conversation was recorded during a row with Mr Thomas about him breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules to meet Ms Merritt.

“I was arguing with Lester, he was essentially getting physical with me,” she said.

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

“My anger was towards him and there shouldn’t have been that anger towards Ms Merritt at all.”

Her barrister earlier suggested to Ms Merritt she was “nigh-on obsessed with Webbe” and was “prepared to do things to her to try to get even or get revenge” because she was “jealous”.

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

Ms Merritt replied: “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 hearing.

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