'We screwed up': Lib Dems confront growing scandal as Nick Clegg admits he DID know of sex claims against Lord Rennard

Latest: Deputy PM admits he was aware of 'non-specific' allegations that a senior party official had sexually harassed women but insists he has nothing to hide

Nick Clegg insisted today that he and the Liberal Democrats had got “nothing to hide” over the handling of claims that a senior party official had sexually harassed several women.

As the Liberal Democrats battled to contain the fallout from the allegations, the party’s president, Tim Farron, admitted it had "screwed this up" and failed in its duty of care to women who made allegations of sexual harassment by Lord Rennard.

Channel 4 News last week broadcast several claims of alleged impropriety towards several women by the peer, all of which have been strongly denied by Lord Rennard.

He said he was "deeply shocked" by the allegations, which he described as a "total distortion" of his character.

Mr Clegg last night admitted he was aware of "non-specific" allegations that the peer, a former party chief executive, had sexually harassed women.

Despite days of denying knowledge of the claims, the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed that "indirect and non-specific concerns" about Lord Rennard's conduct had been passed to his office – but he insisted he had not known about detailed allegations that surfaced last week.

Today he told BBC Radio Solent: "I totally understand people have got lots and lots of questions but I hope I have given a full, frank, honest account.

"I have got nothing to hide, the party has nothing to hide. We have now got to listen to the women who feel they weren't properly listened to and get to the truth and that is what we will do."

Mr Clegg said the party had confronted Lord Rennard with the  concerns, which had been made anonymously, and he strenuously denied them.

The Lib Dem leader said he did not know that a woman he worked closely with had made claims about the peer until a Channel 4 News investigation last week.

He added: "I've got absolutely nothing to hide, why would I? I happen to know some of these women very well. One of them worked for me. I spoke to her just last night. She never, ever said anything about this until now.

"I know her well enough and I'm actually very fond of her so I feel for her and I want us to do, of course, the right thing, which we will do by these investigations.

"The problem, as I explained yesterday, is that until last week no very specific allegations were put to me. We acted on general concerns which had been expressed some time ago but, of course, now that those general concerns have evolved into specific allegations, we can act and we will."

Channel 4 News reported last week that several women said they had reported the incidents to senior figures in the party, including Jo Swinson, who had been Mr Clegg's parliamentary aide and is now the Equalities minister, and Paul Burstow, the former Liberal Democrat Chief Whip. The complainants included two party workers, Alison Smith and Bridget Harris, a former special adviser to Mr Clegg.

The pressure mounted on Mr Clegg yesterday after fresh claims that worries about the peer's activities had been conveyed to senior staff in his office.

Returning from a holiday in Spain, Mr Clegg last night said he was "angry and outraged" at suggestions he would not have investigated specific allegations and tore into claims of a cover-up. "When indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard's conduct reached my office in 2008, we acted to deal with them," he said.

This morning deputy leader Simon Hughes has appealed for the media not to "second guess" the outcome of inquiries into allegations of sexual harassment by Lord Rennard.

The former president of the Liberal Democrats said pre-empting the two investigations into the allegations would be unfair to the complainants and to Lord Rennard.

"The whole purpose of setting up two inquiries now is to go into both the process and the substance of the complaints - the substance of the complaints against a former party employee who denies them completely, and the process which deals with how they were dealt with if they were made and if they were made to individuals some years ago," he told BBC Breakfast.

"The individuals' specific complaints came to light in the last few days, the inquiries were announced immediately."

His chief-of-staff at the time, Danny Alexander, who is now a Cabinet colleague, put "these concerns to Chris Rennard and warned him that any such behaviour was wholly unacceptable", Mr Clegg said. "Chris Rennard categorically denied he had behaved inappropriately and he continues to do so.

He subsequently resigned as chief executive on health grounds. As my office only received concerns indirectly and anonymously, as those involved understandably wanted to maintain their privacy, there was a limit to how we could take this matter forward following Chris Rennard's resignation. It is incorrect to state there was any other separate inquiry by my office."

Mr Clegg said there were "legitimate concerns that issues raised with the party were not handled as well as they should have been", but he rejected "the insidious suggestion that my office or I are responsible in any way for a deliberate cover-up". He added: "I will not stand by and allow my party to be subject to a show trial of innuendo, half-truths and slurs. The important thing is that we respect the women who have come forward and do everything to get to the truth."

Lord Rennard was a key strategist and advised several Liberal Democrat leaders until stepping down in 2009. According to one report yesterday, one of the women who came forward to complain about him that year told a friend on Facebook: "I just don't know how Nick can know and not do anything." Another report claimed Lord Rennard tried to proposition a young activist – an episode said to have been referred to within Liberal Democrat circles as the "Peterborough incident". It also emerged that Jonny Oates, Mr Clegg's former chief-of-staff, had been asked by a newspaper to comment on rumours about the peer's activities.

Earlier Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, told BBC 1's Andrew Marr Show: "Nick Clegg has also said he was not aware of these allegations until they appeared on TV last week. But they are serious, and we take them very seriously."

The storm is a new setback for the party that has seen its support more than halve in opinion polls since it joining with the Tories. The Liberal Democrats had a series of dire by-election defeats and members Chris Huhne and David Laws resigned as cabinet ministers. The party has launched an internal investigation into the "specific allegations" against Lord Rennard, as well as a more wide-ranging inquiry by the party president Tim Farron. The current Liberal Democrat chief executive, Tim Gordon, has admitted that it appeared the party "did not fully live up to our political ideals" in dealing with complaints about the peer. One Liberal Democrat said: "There is a difference between rumour and formal complaints."

Labour last night called for an independent inquiry into how the party responded to the allegations and there were reports that a Labour MP was urging the police to investigate.

According to one report, one woman wrote: "I just don't know how Nick can know and not do anything."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?