A woman who was threatened with acid by the former Labour MP Claudia Webbe was having sex with the politician’s boyfriend, a court heard.
Webbe, who now sits as the independent MP for Leicester East after being expelled from Labour, is appealing against her harassment conviction and 10-week suspended jail sentence after she was found guilty in November 2021.
The 57-year-old allegedly threatened to reveal naked pictures of 59-year-old Michelle Merritt in a string of phone calls she made to her between September 2018 and April 2020.
Helen Law, representing the MP, has suggested a “glaring omission” in Ms Merritt’s accounts in police witness statements and evidence during the trial was that she was “having sex” with Webbe’s boyfriend Lester Thomas.
Prosecutors say Webbe, who was elected in 2019, was driven by “obsession” and “jealousy” over Mr Thomas’s relationship with the executive assistant.
Ms Merritt’s phone has been examined by police and downloaded since the trial and revealed sexual messages which were exchanged between her and the MP’s boyfriend, Southwark Crown Court has heard.
Mr Thomas, a consultant at Crossrail, football coach, and scout for Chelsea FC, bought her a £120 sex toy and frequently sent her pornography, the court was told.
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.”
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.”
‘You were prepared to do things to her to try to get even or get revenge’
The harassment campaign began with silent phone calls in September 2018 then “escalated” on 31 March the following year when Webbe questioned why Ms Merritt was in touch with her boyfriend, the court heard.
Ms Merritt said Webbe told her: “Friends don’t send friends pictures of their t*ts and p*ssy. You’re a slag and should be acid.”
Ms Merritt then called police to report that she had been “threatened by a public figure with acid”, the court heard.
However, she then received 17 further phone calls lasting 14 seconds or less from Webbe after the MP was warned to stop contacting her, the court was told.
In one phone call recorded by Ms Merritt on 25 April 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 claims she sometimes called Ms Merritt’s phone to try to contact her boyfriend but insists the call on 31 March 2019 did not happen and that the recorded conversation was taken out of context in the course of a row with Mr Thomas.
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.”
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 appeal.