Lord Rennard row: Battle lines drawn as Lib Dem peer's friends call for reinstatement

 

Deputy Political Editor

Friends of Lord Rennard today rounded on the women who complained they had been sexually harassed by the Liberal Democrat peer, with one ally accusing them of showing “scorn” for the investigation into his conduct.

Their fightback came after three of the four women called for the Lib Dems’ former chief executive – who finally apologised for invading their “personal space” 15 months after their claims emerged – to be kicked out of the party.

Internal Lib Dem tensions over the issue have piled fresh pressure on Nick Clegg, who is already facing a grassroots rebellion over last week’s disastrous European and local election results. The party fears the Rennard episode could drag on for months.

It has emerged that news of the apology had been held back in an attempt not to distract from the election campaign.

The peer’s friends raised the stakes as they insisted that Lord Rennard, who has currently been suspended from the Lib Dem whip, should be reinstated.

They argued that a line should be drawn under the episode following an investigation by the QC Alistair Webster, who recommended that Lord Rennard should apologise but face no further action.

Mr Webster concluded the claims against him were credible, but could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The peer’s legal adviser, Lord Carlile of Berriew, said he had issued a “very generous” apology despite there being no finding against him.

“Lord Rennard has done everything that was asked of him by Alistair Webster in his independent report. Let’s start from this point: all right-thinking people condemn and deplore any sexual harassment in work, home or elsewhere."

“But the point about this case is that twice it has been found that there should be no action against Lord Rennard on the grounds of insufficient evidence, once after a seven-month police inquiry and then after Alistair Webster. So he’s given a very full apology and that should be the end of the matter.”

Lord Carlile told the BBC that Lord Rennard sent his apology to the four women several weeks ago and showed a copy to Mr Clegg.

He added: “What has happened now is that three of the four complainants are choosing to scorn the independent process and the independent QC Alistair Webster.”

Lord Carlile, a Lib Dem peer, also refused to endorse Mr Clegg’s leadership and said party members should be consulted on his position.

Lord Steel of Aikwood also insisted that the time had come for the party to put the Rennard controversy behind it.

“He’s brought closure to what has been a very unfortunate episode,” the former Liberal Party leader said. “I think he should come back; he’s made an apology.”

However, Bridget Harris, one of the women who complained about the peer, called for his expulsion from the party.

She said: “I would just ask the question, who does Rennard speak for any more? He has been shown to have on many occasions acted completely and deeply inappropriately towards women and has taken advantage of his position as a very powerful member of the Lib Dems to do so.

“I think it's a fairly cut and dry case that the party as a whole should accept that they no longer have their favourite campaigner working with them and instead they have to ask him to leave and I think it's as simple as that.”

Lord Rennard and the three women are pursuing separate legal challenges under the party’s complicated structure. They could take until the autumn, with Mr Clegg powerless to intervene.

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