Claudia Webbe, the independent MP for Leicester East who is suspended from the Labour Party, has been found guilty of threatening and harassing a woman.
Responding to the news, a Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party strongly condemns Claudia Webbe’s actions and she should now resign.”
Webbe was suspended from Labour, and had the party whip suspended, as soon as the allegations came to light in September 2020.
It is understood that for any Labour member, after the conviction of a serious criminal offence, the next stage of the disciplinary process to be triggered is exclusion.
The independent MP is expected to be sentenced on November 4th. If she receives a custodial sentence that is less than a year in length and her appeal fails, a recall petition would be triggered.
In that case, 10% of the Leicester East electorate would need to sign the petition to force a by-election. But if Webbe receives a custodial sentence of 12 months or more, there will be an automatic by-election.
The prosecution said Webbe made calls to 59-year-old Michelle Merritt, a friend of Webbe’s partner, in which she said: “You should be acid.”
Webbe told the court that she was concerned about Merritt and her partner, Lester Thomas, breaking lockdown rules. She said: “We were in a national crisis and lockdown had to be adhered to strictly.”
The prosecutor suggested that Webbe was accused by Thomas of being “mad” because she “had gone mad”, but Webbe said: “I’m not mad, I’m a Member of Parliament.”
Statements on Webbe’s character were provided by Jeremy Corbyn, who said the MP was a “person of good character who makes a positive contribution”, and John McDonnell, who said she was “honest, responsible and an extremely caring person”.
District Judge Paul Goldspring said of Webbe: “Some of the things she said I believe were made up on the spur of the moment.
“Some things she said in the witness box just don’t bear scrutiny. In short, I find Ms Webbe to be vague, incoherent and at times illogical.”
In a statement reacting to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court ruling today, Webbe said: “I am deeply shocked by today’s verdict. 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. The details of the events of the 25th of April that have emerged today are deeply personal. As the court heard, I was facing a domestic incident at the time of the call.
“I was deeply frustrated that my partner and my accuser had been socialising in the middle of the Covid pandemic, contrary to the rules and all health advice. I was frightened and frustrated by his behaviour. But that fear and frustration could not and should not have been interpreted as harassment. The recording of the call has been taken out of context.
“I would like to thank all those who have supported me through this ordeal and continue to do so. These are the people who know me; my character, my values and my behaviour – they know I could not be guilty of this crime and I intend proving them right.
“While I’m preparing for the appeal I want to assure the people of Leicester East that I will continue to stand up for them in parliament, fighting on their behalf.”
Webbe was elected to parliament in the December 2019 general election, replacing Keith Vaz, who stepped down after 32 years.
Vaz was found to have “expressed willingness” to buy cocaine for others and was suspended from parliament. His decision to retire saved Labour’s ruling body from having to decide on whether to endorse him.
There was no hustings or vote by local party members for the selection of Webbe, as with all last-minute selection contests in 2019. The candidate was instead picked by a selection panel including two national executive committee (NEC) representatives.