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Claudia Webbe Should Be in Prison

Dr Pravin Jeyaraj

November 9, 2021.

I’m just going to come out and say it: Claudia Webbe, the sitting Member of Parliament (MP) for Leicester East, deserves to be in prison.

Image - Dominic Lipinski/PA Media

Last month, Webbe was convicted of harassment and subsequently she was given a ten-week sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 200 hours of community service. That means that, unless she fails to comply with the community service order or commits another crime in the next two years, she doesn’t have to go to prison.

What did Webbe do? She made sixteen phone calls to a long-term female friend of her partner between September 2018 and April 2019. Many of these were short, silent telephone calls from a withheld number. In one call, made in March 2019, she actually spoke to her partner’s friend, threatened her with an acid attack and threatened to share naked photographs and videos of her. The police did intervene at this point asking her to stop.

But Webbe continued, making a further 15 calls after April 2019. In the last call in April 2020, she again threatened to share naked images, which led to her being interviewed by police. Webbe in fact pleaded not guilty in court and, even after she was convicted, she still “protested her innocence”.

For comparison, I would like to tell you about a friend of mine; for his privacy, I’ll call him Colin.

Colin was convicted of harassment in 2006 and originally sentenced to two years imprisonment, although this was reduced to one year on appeal. But the point is, with a one-year custodial sentence, he spent six months actually in prison and, for the remaining six months, he was released on licence and had to meet with a probation officer once a week.

His crime - he sent two text messages to a former female colleague saying he wanted to rape her and get her pregnant. He also created a web page containing his former colleague’s photo and name and some sexually explicit words and he sent the link to her. All this happened within the space of a week. He then regretted his actions, deleted the texts, took down the web page and sent an apology (by text) to his victim. But none of that stopped her from going to the police. Colin knew he had done wrong, so he made a full confession to the police and pleaded guilty in court to harassment, so sparing the need for a trial and for his victim to testify. Because of the sexual aspect of the crime, Colin was also placed on the Sex Offender’s Register for 10 years and periodically monitored by local police officers.

Image - Leicester Mercury

Both cases involved sending violent threats - putting people in fear of violence -electronically and both cases contained a sexual element. Webbe’s crime took place over 18 months, despite a warning by police, comprised almost 30 separate incidents, yet she continues to say she was innocent.

Colin’s crime, on the other hand, took place during one week, comprised two to three separate incidents and he accepted his guilt and didn’t try to fight it. Yet he received the more severe sentence.

I’m not saying that he shouldn’t have received a sentence of imprisonment and Colin would be the last person to say he was treated unfairly. But, by comparison, it looks like Webbe has been let off with a slap on the wrist (community service, no jail time).

At the time of his offence, Colin was in the early years of legal career. He had been working as a paralegal and trying to find work as a trainee solicitor. His conviction, and subsequent imprisonment, put an end to his dream of being a solicitor, as he was struck off by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA. The reasons for the SRA’s decision was to maintain the integrity of the profession in eyes of the public and also to protect the safety of the public.

Webbe, on the other hand, has not lost her job as an MP, although she has had the Labour whip removed, so she sits an independent. Part of an MP’s job is to make the law. What does it say about Parliament, the highest law-making body that a convicted criminal, who doesn’t even accept her guilt, is allowed to participate in its operation and also to see members of the public?

There will, of course, be differences between the two cases. Colin’s crime was not his first, it was his second, and the judge at the time treated it, quite rightly, as an escalation from the first. Webbe, on the other hand, had not been convicted of a crime before. On the other hand, Webbe has already demonstrated the capacity to ignore any warning by the authorities – who is to say that she won’t try to contact her victim despite her sentence?

I’m a big supporter of judicial discretion, and I certainly wouldn’t want that to be taken away by Parliament. But it is difficult to see how two different people can be convicted of the same crime and be treated so differently.

And by the way; being in prison does not stop Webbe from appealing her conviction, if that is what she wants to do.

© Dr Pravin Jeyaraj, 2021

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