Lib Dems investigate claims of Lord Rennard sex harassment

Former party chief denies that he inappropriately touched female party workers

The Liberal Democrats have launched an investigation into allegations that the party's former most powerful official abused his position by inappropriately touching and propositioning female party workers.

An investigation by Channel 4 News spoke to several former party staff who claimed to have been subject to unwelcome advances from Lord Rennard, the party's then chief executive.

One of the women Bridget Harris, who until a few months ago worked as a special adviser to Nick Clegg, told the programme that Lord Rennard behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner towards her in 2003 over coffee at a conference in Swansea.

"As we carried on talking he was touching my legs and my knees and he did it two or three times and the first time I thought it was an accident and I crossed my legs," she said.

"Then the second time I realised he was actually doing it. Then when he tried... the third time I basically had to physically move away from him," adding that he went on to invite her to his room, "clearly not noticing the signals".

She said the episode "made me feel embarrassed, upset and disappointed". She reported the incident to her line managers immediately afterwards.

Another woman Alison Smith, now a politics lecturer at Oxford University, said that six years ago when she was a Lib Dem activist she and a friend were invited back to Lord Rennard's house after having dinner with him in central London.

"He just very suddenly got up and plonked himself between us and then he started moving his hands down our backs and places where they had absolutely no business being," she said

Ms Smith said she reported what had happened to Paul Burstow, who was then the party's chief whip, but she says she never heard anything back from him.

She said she then went to Jo Swinson, the party's spokesperson for women and equality, who is now Minister for Women. Ms Smith says Ms Swinson agreed to investigate and spoke to other women who had also alleged Lord Rennard had behaved inappropriately.

Ms Smith added: "She certainly uncovered...that this was a very serious pattern of behaviour." But Ms Swinson told Ms Smith the problem with taking it forward was that nobody wanted to make a formal complaint.

A spokesperson for the Lib Dems said: "In view of the serious allegations put to us by Channel 4 and the concerns raised about how such issues have been handled in the past, Nick Clegg has asked Tim Farron, the Party President, to establish an immediate review into all our procedures for dealing with these issues, including a thorough examination of how allegations made in the past have been handled."

Lord Rennard's lawyers said he'd "always strived to conduct himself responsibly and appropriately at all times and has no recollection of any inappropriate behaviour. In addition, our client is unaware of any complaint about his conduct ever being made against him."

They added: "In the case of Ali Smith, he denies behaving improperly and confirms he has worked with Bridget Harris since 2003 and is unaware of her having grounds for complaint. In addition, Lord Rennard describes as completely untrue any suggestion that he resigned as chief executive as a result of allegations about inappropriate behaviour."

Profile: 'An extraordinary figure'

Described by former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy as "a quite extraordinary figure in British politics", Chris Rennard was employed by the party for nearly 30 years as a professional campaigner and agent and wrote many of its publications on election campaigning and party organisation, becoming director of campaigns in 1989 and chief executive in 2003. He masterminded 12 parliamentary by-election wins for the party, out of 78 held between 1988 and 2009 – a success rate of 15.4 per cent. In 1989 he married Ann McTegart and was made a life peer ten years later. His expenses came under scrutiny in 2009 following a complaint but it was found he had not broken the rules.

A diabetic, he stepped down as chief executive in 2009, citing health and lifestyle reasons. Now 52, he is Treasurer of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Diabetes and a Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health.

Emma Bamford

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker