Claudia Webbe: Leicester East MP charged with harassment

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Labour MP Claudia Webbe has been charged with a harassment offence. Picture: PA

Labour MP Claudia Webbe has been charged with harassment against a woman.

The 55-year-old has been charged after an investigation by the Metropolitan police and is due to appear at Westminster magistrates’ court on 11 November. The alleged offence took place between 1 September 2018 and 26 April this year..

It added: “Criminal proceedings against Ms Webbe are now active and she has the right to a fair trial.

“It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”

Jenny Hopkins, the head of the special crime unit of the CPS, said in a statement: “The CPS has today decided that Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East, should be charged with an offence of harassment against one female.

In a statement, the Crown Prosecution Service said it made the decision after receiving a file of evidence from the Metropolitan Police.

“Criminal proceedings against Ms Webbe are now active and she has the right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”

In a statement, Webbe said: “I am innocent of any wrongdoing and look forward to proving this in court. I will be vigorously defending myself against these claims.”

Webbe was born and brought up in Leicester, but her adoption for the Leicester East seat after her tenure as a councillor and cabinet member at Islington council prompted some complaints within the local party.

She won the constituency with a majority of just over 6,000, down from the 22,000-plus majority of the longstanding former MP Keith Vaz.

Webbe, 55, will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 11 November.

This also begs the question why was Claudia Webbe named and the alleged Tory rapist MP allowed anonymity?

Emma Ferguson is a solicitor in the Abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp gives the argument of why: Naming defendants in rape cases is crucial to victims coming forward.

“But the victims have the right to anonymity! It’s not fair!”.  This argument suggests that a person accused of rape is a victim too, just like the person who has been raped.  This again perpetuates the myth that false allegations are rife, which is simply untrue.  Victims’ identities need to be protected in order to give them the confidence to come forward.  Police reports for rape are extremely rare; it is thought that only one in six rapes and sexual assaults are actually reported to the police and that is before we take a look at the low rate of cases that are taken any further.  Reporting needs to be encouraged and victims are often too fearful of the social repercussions they may face to speak to the police.  Rape survivors who report this crime fear disbelief, judgement, vilification and rejection from their community and so by protecting their identity, we embolden them to speak up.

Naming the suspect in these cases also assists police investigations as it encourages both witnesses and other victims to come forward.  Many rapists are serial offenders and when survivors see their rapist’s name in the paper in association with crimes committed against others, they are more likely to report their own abuse.  The public have seen this play out in relation to serial rapists and abusers such as Jimmy Savile and John Warboys.  In the experience of Bolt Burdon Kemp’s Abuse team, we have seen the same happen when paedophiles who are members of the Church, Scout leaders and football coaches are named as suspects.  The evidence clearly shows there is strength in numbers and this is particularly helpful in securing a guilty verdict.

It is often forgotten that we trialled anonymity for those accused of rape in England and Wales for well over a decade and it did not work.  The Sexual Offenders (Amendment) Act 1976 introduced the concept of affording anonymity to the defendant in sexual offence cases, specifically to protect them from damage to their reputation and to provide equality between complainants and defendants in rape cases.  This was repealed in 1988 following advice from the police and a Criminal Law Revision Committee report.  It was considered that comparing defendants with complainants was invalid and that the correct comparison is in fact between co-defendants.  To be accused of rape is no different to being accused of any other serious crime and therefore did not warrant special treatment.  To name a defendant in any criminal proceeding assists the police investigation and is in line with the principle that justice should be practised openly and publicly.

Defendant anonymity was considered once more by the Labour Government during the passage of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and yet again by the Coalition Government in 2010.  It was defeated both times, with the Ministry of Justice’s November 2010 paper concluding that the review of evidence “found insufficient reliable empirical findings” to justify a change in the law.

The argument for defendant anonymity only serves to protect defendants in the highly unlikely circumstances that an allegation against them is false.  It is an irresponsible and tired argument that perpetuates dangerous myths about the reporting of rape.  It is unsupported by the police and unsupported by legal experts who have considered the evidence at length and in detail.  Let us now put this argument to bed and focus our efforts instead on doing everything we can to encourage victims to come forward, safe in the knowledge that they will believed.  That is how we achieve justice.  That is how we protect our communities.

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