UK MP Claudia Webbe Loses Appeal Against Conviction but Cannot Now Be Recalled

UK MP Claudia Webbe Loses Appeal Against Conviction but Cannot Now Be Recalled
Labour MP Claudia Webbe (L) arrives with her partner Lester Thomas at the City of Westminster Magistrates Court in London on Nov. 4, 2021. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Chris Summers

A former Labour MP who was convicted of harassing a love rival has lost her appeal against conviction but her sentence has been reduced, meaning her constituents will no longer be able to recall her.

A judge ruled on Thursday that Claudia Webbe, who is currently representing Leicester East as an independent, had not threatened Michelle Merritt, 59, with acid, and he overturned the 10-week suspended sentence that she was given last year.

Webbe, 57, was expelled from the Labour Party after she was convicted in November of harassing Merritt between September 2018 and April 2020.

She faced a recall petition, which could have resulted in a by-election, but because the suspended sentence was thrown out she no longer faces that threat and can remain as the independent MP for Leicester East until 2024.

Her predecessor as Labour MP for Leicester East was Keith Vaz, who was suspended from Parliament for six months in October 2019 after he was found to have “expressed willingness” to purchase cocaine for male prostitutes. Vaz stepped down and Webbe was selected for the December 2019 general election.

The Labour Party said of Webbe: “The allegations in this case were extremely serious. The Labour Party rightly expects elected representatives to maintain the very highest standards at all times. Ms. Webbe should now resign so the people of Leicester East can get the representation they deserve.”

Prosecutors at her original trial said she harassed Merritt for 18 months because of her “jealousy” over her boyfriend Lester Thomas’s relationship with the executive assistant.

It was suggested Merritt and Thomas were just long-standing friends, but at Webbe’s appeal hearing at Southwark Crown Court sexual text messages between the pair were revealed for the first time and the MP said she had split up with him.

Judge Deborah Taylor said: “We found that although Michelle Merritt was an unsatisfactory witness who told lies about the nature of her relationship with Lester Thomas until the downloads from her phone made the nature of the relationship clear, in other respects we accept her evidence.”

Taylor said they decided Webbe had not “made a threat to throw acid over” Merritt, but she said a string of silent phone calls and threats to reveal naked pictures of her had been “a course of conduct which amounted to harassment.”

She replaced the suspended sentence with a community service order.

Labour had held Leicester East since 1987 but the party’s majority at the 2019 election was cut from 23,000 to 6,000.

PA Media contributed to this report.