Lord Rennard reinstated by Lib Dems as disciplinary action over alleged sexual harassment is dropped

There are suspicions that the party hierarchy was reluctant to act on the women’s complaints because they valued his by-election expertise

Lord Rennard, the former Liberal Democrat chief executive who was at the centre of a sexual harassment scandal, has been readmitted to the party as disciplinary action was dropped.

The peer’s party membership was suspended earlier this year after he refused to apologise to women who accused him of sexual harassment, a charge he denied. A party investigation by Alistair Webster QC concluded that the allegations were “broadly credible” but could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

In May, Lord Rennard apologised for having “inadvertently” intruded into the women’s “personal space”.

The decision to reinstate him is likely to be controversial. One of his four accusers has in the past called for him to be “asked to leave” the Liberal Democrats, of which he has been a member since the party was founded after the 1987 general election.

Successive party leaders have been impressed by Lord Rennard’s wizardry as an organiser of by-election campaigns, giving rise to suspicions that Nick Clegg and other highly placed figures in the party were reluctant to act on the women’s complaints because they valued his expertise.

News of his reinstatement broke tonight after the Liberal Democrats announced its Regional Parties Committee had met and taken the decision not to proceed with the disciplinary process.

A party spokesman said: “The Regional Parties Committee met this week to consider whether the party had been brought into disrepute by statements made by Lord Rennard, or on his behalf, following the publication of Alistair Webster’s conclusions. It decided not to proceed with the disciplinary process against him.”

In his report, Mr Webster urged the peer to “reflect upon the effect that his behaviour has had and the distress which it caused and that an apology would be appropriate”. However, Lord Rennard refused to say sorry immediately – complaining that he had not even been allowed to see the full version of the QC’s report. He was suspended pending disciplinary action for bringing the party into disrepute by not heeding Mr Webster’s suggestion.

It was not until May, some 14 months after four women – Bridget Harris, Alison Goldsworthy, Alison Smith and Susan Gaszczak – first publicly accused him of touching them inappropriately, that Lord Rennard issued a statement that said he may have encroached upon “personal space” and would “therefore like to apologise sincerely for any such intrusion and assure them that this would have been inadvertent”.

Ms Gaszczak, who resigned from the party in July in protest at the failure to expel Lord Rennard, said the development showed she made the “right choice”. “Very glad I made the right choice in July,” she wrote on Twitter. “The Lib Dems have told me I am credible but have no back bone, back to normal then.”

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