Liberal Democrats in 'whitewash' row as party claims it cannot take action over sexual allegations against Lord Rennard

  • @oliver_wright

The Liberal Democrats were tonight accused of opting for “cowardice” over action after the party claimed it was powerless to take disciplinary proceedings against its former chief executive over allegations of sexual harassment.

An internal investigation set up by the party and led by the QC Alistair Webster concluded there was a “less than 50 per cent chance” that a charge against Lord Rennard could be proved beyond reasonable doubt – the standard required by party rules.

However Mr Webster said he had found credible evidence of “behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants” and called for the peer to apologise to apologise to the women concerned.

This demand was repeated by the party leader Nick Clegg and president Tim Farron. However in a statement Lord Rennard made no mention of an apology and said he looked forward to “resuming” his roles within the Liberal Democrats.

“I remain committed to the same values which made me join the Liberal Party as a teenager more than 40 years ago,” he said.

Party sources admitted they had no mechanism for removing Lord Rennard from the party’s Federal Policy Committee to which he was elected in 2012.

Alison Goldsworthy, one of the women who made allegations about Lord Rennard's behaviour, said she was taking legal advice about the decision.

“Faced with the opportunity to take strong action, the Liberal Democrats have once more opted for cowardice,” she said.

Nick Clegg said it was clear in the report that a number of women in the Liberal Democrats had been subject to behaviour that caused them “real distress”.

“As leader of the Liberal Democrats I want to apologise to each and every one of those women,” he said.

“People in positions of authority should never subject anyone, whoever they are, to behaviour which is offensive or inappropriate. That is why it is right that Chris Rennard has been asked in this report to apologise.”

Mr Clegg added that Mr Farron was now reviewing the Lib Dems disciplinary procedures “from top to toe”.

"The fact that no steps have been taken is related to the way in which the disciplinary procedures are presently designed," he said.

“I’m not content that a report concludes that the system is such that someone has been asked to apologise, distress has been caused, and yet there are no sanctions which can be applied.”

But in a statement Lord Rennard said he was pleased to have been cleared.

“The Metropolitan Police also investigated the allegations thoroughly and over several months and found that there was no case to proceed.

“I now look forward to resuming my roles within the Liberal Democrats.”