MP Claudia Webbe handed suspended sentence for harassing partner’s female friend

‘I am very disappointed by the decision of the magistrate,’ 56-year-old says

Zoe Tidman
Thursday 04 November 2021 19:49
<p>Claudia Webbe has been handed a 10-week suspended sentence</p>

Claudia Webbe has been handed a 10-week suspended sentence

Claudia Webbe MP has been handed a 10-week suspended sentence for harassing a female friend of her boyfriend.

The 56-year-old, who sits as an independent MP after being suspended by Labour, was also given 200 hours’ of community service by Westminster Magistrates Court on Thursday.

Webbe was convicted of harassment last month.

The court heard she had made a string of threatening calls to Michelle Merritt, a friend of her partner, Lester Thomas, in the space of around a year and a half.

In one of them, she threatened to throw acid over the 59-year-old and share naked images of her.

Following the sentencing, Webbe said in a statement: “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.

She added: “Throughout this process I have received numerous threats to my life and vile racist abuse. The cowards responsible for these attacks will not deter me from clearing my name.”

In his ruling on Thursday, Paul Goldspring, the chief magistrate, said Webbe’s behaviour was “callous and intimidatory”.

“You were jealous of the relationship between Lester Thomas and Michelle Merritt, and probably felt in some way threatened by it,” he said.

Mr Goldspring said Webbe “showed little remorse or contrition” and would have been jailed immediately were it not for her previous good character.

The outcome means the 56-year-old gets to automatically keep her seat in parliament. MPs who receive a jail sentence of a year and more lose their seat. But the sentence means Webbe will face a recall petition, which could trigger a by-election if at least 10 per cent of her constituents support it.

The process must wait until the outcome of any appeal by Webbe against her conviction.

As well as the suspended sentence and community service, the MP was ordered to pay £3,128 in costs and surchages.

Her counsel, Paul Hynes QC, said his client was “in significant personal debt” predating her time as an MP and offered to pay the fine in £100 increments every 28 days.

The chief magistrate said that was “not going to cut it” for someone on Webbe‘s salary and ordered it be paid within six months.

Before the sentencing, the prosecution told the court Webbe’s offending was “persistent” and took place “over a prolonged period”.

Susannah Stevens said her client, Ms Merritt, had to “make changes to her life” – including commuting by taxi – as she felt unsafe. The defendant also thought about moving house, the court was told.

Meanwhile, Ms Merritt told the court: “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 a politician.”

Mr Goldspring said he found it “odd and concerning” that the probation service report said Webbe felt like a victim herself and counted several occassions when she referred to herself as “the victim” in the witness box during the trial.

Webbe has been the MP for Leicester East since 2019, when she won the seat in the December general election.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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