UK Politics

Lib Dems deny Nick Clegg knew of Lord Rennard claims

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Media captionMr Cable says he was unaware of the misconduct claims by Lib De colleague Lord Rennard

Business Secretary Vince Cable has said he and Nick Clegg had "absolutely not" known about claims of sexual misconduct against the Liberal Democrat's former chief executive, Lord Rennard.

Mr Cable told the BBC the allegations were being taken "very seriously".

Channel 4 News aired claims of impropriety towards women by the peer last week, but some press reports questioned if the deputy PM had been told about them years ago.

Lord Rennard denies the allegations.

The Lib Dems have launched an internal investigation into the allegations against Lord Rennard, under the party's disciplinary procedures.

Party president Tim Farron is also reviewing the way the party has dealt with allegations of this sort in the past.

On Thursday, Channel 4 News broadcast allegations by two women of sexual impropriety in incidents spanning several years by Lord Rennard.

The women told the news programme he abused his position by inappropriately touching and propositioning them.

'Brushing parts of me'

One of the women said she had spoken to two senior party figures about her claims, but said no action was taken. Allegations from more women were broadcast on Friday.

"Gradually his hand started to rub the outside of my leg," one of the women - a very active member of the Lib Dems - told Channel 4.

"I thought at first he'd just brushed against me. Then I moved away and it happened again. And he moved closer - and I moved away again. And he moved closer, and he just kept brushing parts of me that I didn't want to be brushed."

Following newspaper reports that Mr Clegg had been told about the allegations, Mr Cable told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show he had not known of the claims, adding: "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."

Mr Cable went on: "It's obviously wrong if there are women there who have made complaints and felt they weren't dealt with properly, so we are now setting up a proper investigative process - we want an independent element to that - and we'll get to the bottom of it."

The Mail on Sunday reported that one of the women who came forward to Channel 4 News discussed the allegations with a friend on Facebook in January 2009.

"I just don't know how nick can know and not do anything.. :-( makes me very sad," the paper said she posted.

Responding to the report, a Lib Dem spokesman said: "Nick categorically did not know about these allegations.

"There are no basis for claims that Nick knew - there is no way of verifying these allegations or checking who these people are."

Image caption Nick Clegg is expected to respond further to the allegations against Lord Rennard later

Mr Clegg has been on holiday on Spain since the story surfaced, but is likely to give his response on Sunday.

The spokesman said Mr Clegg was happy to give evidence and participate in the two inquiries.

"He wants to get to the bottom of this and the complaints. These are very serious allegations," he said.

Mr Clegg's former Parliamentary aide, Jo Swinson, and now equalities minister, has said she "took action" after some women had confided in her, but she has not specified what form that action took. She said she welcomed the review so that "lessons can be learned".

'Deeply shocked'

Announcing the inquiries on Saturday, Lib Dem chief executive Tim Gordon expressed regret that "it appears that we did not fully live up to our political ideals" when handling complaints about Lord Rennard.

He said a five-strong panel of party figures - including at least three women - would be assembled to conduct a "thorough and in-depth" investigation into the allegations.

It is thought the inquiries could take three months to complete. Their proceedings would be confidential but the results would be made public, the Lib Dems said.

The inquiry will also look at whether Lord Rennard stood down as chief executive in 2009 for reasons other than that he gave at the time of health grounds.

Lord Rennard, a key party strategist and adviser to a succession of Lib Dem leaders, said he was "deeply shocked" about the allegations and said they were a "total distortion" of his character.

The peer said he knew of no complaints against him in his 27 years working for the party, but he has temporarily stood aside from the Lib Dems' group in the Lords to avoid "embarrassment" to the party.

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