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Claudia Webbe found guilty of harassment: MP faces call to resign as by-election looms

CLAUDIA Webbe, 56, a former Labour MP who now sits as an independent, has been found guilty of harassment by Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring following a trial at Westminster Magistrates' Court, raising the prospect of a high-stakes by-election.

Ms Webbe, 56, was found guilty of harassing a female friend of her partner Lester Thomas. Westminster Magistrates' Court heard she made a string of threatening calls to 59-year-old Michelle Merritt between September 1 2018 and April 26 last year because she was jealous of her friendship with her boyfriend.

Following the verdict, Ms Webbe said she was "deeply shocked" at the outcome of the trial.

She said: "I am innocent and will appeal this verdict.

"As I said in court and repeat now, I have never threatened violence nor have I ever harassed anyone."

Her lawyer, Raj Chada, head of criminal defence at social justice law firm Hodge Jones & Allen added: "We will be appealing this unjust verdict.

"The recording of the call Ms Webbe made has been taken out of context.

"We are sure that Ms Webbe will be vindicated at an appeal."

The court was told Webbe, who sits in the Commons as an independent after being suspended by the Labour Party, made a string of calls to Ms Merritt between September 1 2018 and April 26 last year.

During one, she called Ms Merritt "a slag", threatened her with acid and said she would send naked pictures and videos to her daughters, Westminster Magistrates' Court heard.

In another call, recorded by the complainant, Webbe is heard telling the victim to "get out of my relationship" some 11 times.

Prosecutor Susannah Stevens said Webbe harassed Ms Merritt because she was jealous of her friendship with Mr Thomas, a consultant at Crossrail, football coach and scout for Chelsea.

Webbe, from Islington, north London, denied harassment, claiming she only made "courtesy calls" to warn Ms Merritt not to breach coronavirus regulations by meeting Mr Thomas.

And Paul Hynes QC, defending, read out a string of character references from figures including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.

But Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring found her guilty on Wednesday following a two-day trial.

He said: "I find she was jealous of the relationship between Lester and Michelle, whatever the nature of that relationship, she certainly thought it was something she was not happy with."

He adjourned sentencing to November 4 and released Webbe on unconditional bail but warned her she could face prison.

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