Politics

‘Jealous’ MP threatened woman with acid, court hears


A member of parliament threatened her partner’s former lover with acid after launching a campaign of harassment against her because she was jealous of their relationship, a court has heard.

Claudia Webbe, who was suspended from the Labour Party last September over the allegations, is accused of making a string of phone calls to Michelle Merritt between September 2018 and April 2020.

During the series of calls, the MP for Leicester East – now sitting as an independent – allegedly threatened to send naked pictures and videos she supposedly had of executive assistant Ms Merritt to her children, Westminster Magistrates Court heard.

“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.

Ms Webbe denies a single count of harassment, and her lawyer in turn accused Ms Merritt of “conducting a little campaign against” the MP, “because for whatever reason you didn’t like the fact she was in a relationship with Lester Thomas”.

Ms Merritt told the court she had known Mr Thomas for more than 15 years and they were “good friends”, having previously dated.

Ms Webbe allegedly made a series of silent phone calls from a withheld number to Ms Merritt, who told the court: “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.

“When you are being called and no one answers, it’s unnerving, especially as a woman who lives alone.”

Prosecutors said the “harassment escalated in form” on Mother’s Day, in March 2019, when Ms 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 Ms Stevens.

Ms Merritt alleged that Ms Webbe – formerly a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee – told her 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,” said Ms Merritt. “She then started calling me a s**g and saying friends don’t send pictures of their t*** and p**** to other friends, and it culminated in: ‘You’re a s**g and you should be acid’.

“She confirmed she knew where I lived and would send pictures and videos to my daughters.”

Ms Webbe denies making any such threats.

Ms Merritt 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.”

But despite being warned by officers in the weeks that followed, Ms Webbe allegedly continued to make further calls to the complainant, who recorded one of them in April 2020, after calling the MP back.

In the call, played in court, Ms Webbe is heard repeatedly telling Ms Merritt to “get out of my relationship”.

“I have seen all of your naked pictures,” she could be heard saying, adding: “I will show them all of your pictures.”

Ms Merritt, who told Ms Webbe during the call that she would contact the press, said she was left feeling “scared, fearful, afraid and nervous”.

The MP later accepted to police that she had spoken to Ms Merritt but claimed she had said those words to Mr Thomas during the course of an argument in which officers were called, the court heard.

Paul Hynes QC, representing Ms Webbe, suggested his client contacted Ms Merritt to tell her she and Mr Thomas should not be breaking coronavirus lockdown regulations together.

“I’m going to suggest you were obviously and knowingly breaking lockdown regulations with Lester Thomas from the end of March to the end of April and Ms Webbe complained about that and asked you to stop,” he said.

The complainant replied that “Ms Webbe did not ask me this question”, and described as “incorrect” the lawyer’s suggestion that she had conducted her own campaign against Ms Webbe because she didn’t like the MP’s relationship with Mr Thomas.

Ms Merritt also denied Mr Hynes’s claim that she knew the MP was “vulnerable because she is a public figure and that is why you said you were going to go to the press”.

Ms Webbe, from Islington in north London, stood in the dock wearing a black suit, speaking to confirm her name, date of birth and address.

Having served as chair of Metropolitan Police’s Operation Trident, a team set up in the 1990s to tackle gun crime within black communities, Ms Webbe also worked as a political adviser to Ken Livingstone during his tenure as London mayor and sat as a councillor in Islington for eight years until 2018.

Ms 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.

Additional reporting by PA

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