UK Politics

No action against Lib Dem Rennard over sex harassment claims

Lord Rennard Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Rennard said he hoped to resume his roles within the party

The Lib Dems say they will not be taking disciplinary action against Lord Rennard over sexual harassment claims.

An independent inquiry into allegations of impropriety made by female activists concluded that the evidence against the peer was "broadly credible".

But the lawyer who led the probe said there was less than a 50% chance that harassment charges could be proved.

The peer has been asked to apologise for his conduct but said he wanted to "resume his roles" in the party.

The former Lib Dem chief executive resigned the party whip last year amid allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances to several women and touched them inappropriately, but remains a member of its main policy making body.

Party leader Nick Clegg said Lord Rennard would not be playing "any role" in the Lib Dems' 2015 general election plans.

But female activists responded angrily, saying calls for an apology were not sufficient and tougher action was needed.

'Personal space'

An inquiry launched by the Lib Dems concluded that there was broadly credible evidence dating back several years of "behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants".

But its chairman, Alistair Webster QC, said it was "unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt" - as required by internal disciplinary procedures - "that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way".

"Without proof of such an intention, I do not consider that such a charge would be tenable," he stated.

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Media captionBridget Harris: "I don't want to be part of a party that adheres to tribal structures that protect its own offenders"

If he had been found to have brought the party into disrepute, the peer faced possible expulsion from the Lib Dems.

After considering the evidence, Mr Webster said he did not believe the claims made against Lord Rennard were either "unreliable" or politically motivated.

He added: "It is my view that Lord Rennard ought to reflect upon the effect that his behaviour has had and the distress which it caused and that an apology would be appropriate, as would a commitment to change his behaviour in future."

'Reflect on actions'

The Metropolitan Police decided last year not to press charges against him.

The Lib Dem peer said he was glad that, following Wednesday's report, "justice was eventually done" and thanked all those who had supported him.

"I am pleased that this brings to an end all investigations concerning allegations made against me," he said.

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Media captionNick Clegg: "It is right that Chris Rennard has been asked to apologise"

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

Lord Rennard stepped down as chief executive in 2009 having, for many years, masterminded its campaigning strategies, including a host of by-election victories.

But he still sits on the Federal Policy Committee - to which he was elected for a two-year term in 2012 - although there are now calls for him to step down.

Alison Smith, one of the women to accuse Lord Rennard of misconduct in a Channel 4 documentary a year ago, tweeted that "something needs be done".

"In 2014 a major political party finds that it has no suitable procedures for dealing with allegations of serious sexual harassment."

Image caption Ms Smith was a party activist when she alleges she was touched inappropriately

And Alison Goldsworthy, a former Lib Dem Welsh activist who also raised concerns with the party, accused it of "moral cowardice".

"They have failed to say Lord Rennard's behaviour is unacceptable, they have failed to discipline him and therefore have failed to give victims the justice they deserve."

Lib Dem President Tim Farron said that as the peer was no longer employed by the party, the standard of proof required for disciplinary action was much higher.

"As a party we have no choice but to accept Alistair Webster's conclusions, but that does not mean I am content," he said. "Nick Clegg and I are clear that we need to look again at our disciplinary procedures."

He told Channel 4 News that he he expected Lord Rennard to show a "degree of repentance" but there "has been no sense of that" so far.

'Left alone'

Mr Clegg said he respected the report's findings but it was not satisfactory that "distress has been caused but there are no sanctions that can be applied",

"People in positions of authority should never subject anyone, whoever they are, to behaviour which is offensive or inappropriate," he said. "It is as simple as that."

But Lord Carlile, a former Lib Dem MP who is acting as Lord Rennard's legal adviser, said it was "astonishing" the peer had not been able to see the report and suggested the overwhelming bulk of statements had been in his favour.

"He should be left alone," he added. "It is monstrously wrong to demand an apology when the report says there is no case to answer."

A separate report into the party's culture and practices last year found that senior figures "should have asked more questions" when the allegations first arose and urged action to tackle bullying and handling of complaints.

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