Claudia Webbe’s love rival, 59, who was harassed, called ‘a s**g’ and threatened with acid by the ex-Labour MP, 57, admits she DID have sex with politician’s boyfriend, court hears
The woman who MP Claudia Webbe threatened with acid during an 18-month harassment campaign was having sex with the politician’s partner, a court has heard.
The former Labour MP for Leicester East, 57, allegedly branded Michelle Merritt, 59, a ‘s**g’, threatened to throw acid at her and said she would post naked photos of her to her family, 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 then 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.
She was also ordered to pay £1,000 to Ms Merritt in compensation after District Judge Paul Goldspring said she ‘intended to cause real alarm and distress to her’, and given 200 hours of unpaid work.
Former Labour MP for Leicester East Claudia Webbe allegedly branded Michelle Merritt a ‘s**g’, threatened to throw acid at her and said she would post naked photos of her to her family. Pictured, Webbe outside Southwark Crown Court today
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 FC.
He had dated Ms Merritt some 15 years ago, but magistrates did not hear that Ms Merritt was still having sex with Thomas in a ‘friends with benefits relationship.’
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 that ‘never got used’ and frequently sent her pornography.
In June 2019, Ms Merritt texted Mr Thomas about a ‘new sex toy’ she had ordered, the court heard.
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.’
Webbe’s boyfriend Lester Thomas dated Ms Merritt some 15 years ago. Detail about them having sex for more than two years was left out of the initial trial at Westminster Magistrates. Pictured, Webbe and her ex, Mr Thomas arriving at Westminster Magistrates Court on November 4, 2021
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.’
At the appeal, Ms Merritt said that there was an ‘occasional’ sexual side to their relationship.
‘It was more often a friendship, going to the cinema, theatre, for lunch…more than sex,’ she added.
Ms Merritt firmly denied being in a ‘relationship’ with Mr Thomas, defining them as friends who ‘occasionally’ had sex.
Ms Law alleged that Ms Merritt wanted Mr Thomas to leave his then-girlfriend for her.
This was vehemently denied.
‘I’m sorry I never wanted to have a relationship with Mr Thomas and I will say that again until I’m blue in the face,’ Ms Merritt said.
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.
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. Pictured, the former couple leaving Westminster Magistrates Court on November 4, 2021
Ms Merritt said Webbe told her: ‘Friends don’t send friends pictures of their t*ts and p***y. You’re a s**g 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.
This phone call was not recorded but a conversation in April 2020 between Webbe and Ms Merritt was taped in which Webbe yells at the latter woman 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.’
Ms Law said that her client did not use any of the same language in the recorded call as in the unrecorded Mother’s Day call.
‘When you gave your account to the police, ‘t*ts, p***y, sl*g, acid’, were you trying to imagine the kind of words a black woman might use when jealous and angry at her lover?’
Ms Merritt replied: ‘No. The words I have typed here are the words that I heard, the words that Ms Webbe said to me in that conversation in March on Mother’s Day 2019.’
‘I am going to suggest to you that that call simply did not happen,’ the barrister continued.
The witness sighed in reply.
Webbe said her anger on the recorded phone conversation was meant for her boyfriend who was ‘getting physical’ with her.
The taped call, on 25 April 2020, records Webbe telling Ms Merritt, nine times, to ‘get out of my relationship.’
Giving evidence today in a checked blazer and navy pencil skirt, Webbe said: ‘I was arguing with Lester, he was essentially getting physical with me.
‘We were having an argument about lockdowns and about lots of things in relation to our relationship.
‘By the time of this call I was completely stressed and I was broken I think, I was broken.’
Webbe said she had ‘never been so angry’.
‘It overflowed into a feeling towards Michelle but it was not meant for Michelle. My anger was towards Lester.
‘There should not have been that anger towards Michelle at all.
‘Lester, he was literally grabbing me, and I was scared and angry but I was angry with Lester.’
The MP broke down in tears speaking about what she told the police of her relationship with Mr Thomas when she was interviewed about that call.
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’. Pictured, Webbe outside Southwark Crown Court today
‘I did want to say something about how I was being treated. I didn’t feel I could speak to them.’
In the recorded audio, Webbe said: ‘I have seen all of your posts, I have seen all of your naked pictures. I have seen all of your relationship with Lester.’
The politician claimed that the first sentence was directed at her then-boyfriend and the latter to Ms Merritt.
She said Mr Thomas had been to St Lucia and had posted naked photos when he was there and those were the images she was referring to.
Further along in the audio recording, Webbe says: ‘Get out of my relationship, otherwise I will tell your whole family and show them all of your pictures.’
In the witness box, she maintained that she was having two separate conversations, that she told Ms Merritt to ‘get out’ and threatened her boyfriend with exposing his pictures.
Webbe said, at that moment, Mr Thomas was ‘coming for me’ and the threat was to stop him in his tracks.
She added the call also records her telling him: ‘Stop beating me up, I’m fed up of fighting with you’.
Webbe insisted that the call, along with others made to Ms Merritt in March and April 2020, were about asking her not to break lockdown rules by meeting up with Mr Thomas.
‘I just couldn’t understand why you would break the law,’ she said.
‘I thought it was very very wrong to be meeting up during lockdown.
‘I was very concerned at the time that given my age and my ethnicity it would be a very difficult thing [to catch covid].
‘I had a friend…who died. They said he would recover, he was younger than me, but he died.
‘I was hurt. I didn’t want the virus to come to my household.’
She insisted that she did not know about the sexual nature of their relationship.
‘At the time of the lockdown I may have started to begin to think that something was not right but apart from that I had no idea that they were anything more than friends.’
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.
She denied calling Ms Merritt a ‘s**g’ and threatening to throw acid on her.
‘The things ascribed to me as being said in that call is just abhorrent to me.
‘The language that is being used to describe what I have said…I have never used expletives or sworn in my life.’
She said her religious upbringing, and the fact that her parents grew up in Nevis where it is a crime to swear, instilled this in her.
Webbe referred to rapper 50 cent being detained for swearing during a concert on the Caribbean Island.
‘These words that were ascribed to me just aren’t me,’ she said.
She later added: ‘There was no phone call and there was no threat of anything to do with acid.
‘I am somebody who has spent a lifetime working to tackle crime 40 years of public service almost.
‘I didn’t wake up one day and suddenly decide I’m going to become a criminal and threaten somebody with acid. It just doesn’t happen.’
The MP said she has always championed women’s rights.
‘My birthday is on the 8th of March, it is International Women’s Day.
‘It has always been a great source of pride to me that I celebrate the rights of women and the protection of women and I have always done that my entire life.’
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.’
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.
She was a councillor in Islington between 2010 and 2018 and was a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee.
Earlier in her career, she was a political adviser to the then-London mayor Ken Livingstone.
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.
Webbe, of Islington, London, denied but was convicted of one count of harassment, between 1 September 2018 and 26 April 2020.
The appeal, which is being heard by Judge Deborah Taylor and two magistrates, continues.