Lord Rennard allies threaten legal action
Allies of Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard are threatening to take legal action unless he is readmitted to the party's group in the Lords.
It comes after party leader Nick Clegg said the whip should not be restored unless the peer apologised over allegations of sexual harassment.
Under the party's rules, peers themselves can decide to welcome Lord Rennard back into the fold
The former Lib Dem chief executive has always denied the allegations.
Lord Rennard resigned the party whip last year amid claims he made unwanted sexual advances to several women and touched them inappropriately, but he remains a member of its main policy-making body.
An internal 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".
However, it concluded that allegations of sexual misconduct could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt, as the party's internal disciplinary procedures require.'Totally rebuffed'
Alistair Webster QC, who led the inquiry, recommended Lord Rennard apologise and change his behaviour.
Lord Rennard's legal adviser, Lord Carlile, said the peer was "not going to apologise" and added: "There's no reason why he should."
The peer's allies say that since he has been cleared of bringing the party into disrepute, it would be unconstitutional to prevent him sitting as a Lib Dem peer.
They say the party is likely to be taken to court if Mr Clegg gets his way.
In a Facebook message revealed by Channel 4 News, Lord Rennard said he had considered offering an apology.
He wrote: "I tried to make/consider any apology years ago, but was totally rebuffed by the complainants. One accepted then reneged!
"An appeal and further legal actions are threatened, so I could not apologise in any event even if justified (which it is not).
"It would damage the women and the party much more if I said any more." The post has since been deleted.
The four female activists are understood to be appealing against the decision to end the disciplinary process.
Alison Smith, one of the complainants, said: "Let's be clear. Any apology from Rennard would need to be sincere and specific.
"Nothing worse than 'I'm sorry if..."'
In another social media message passed to the programme, the peer's brother, Edward Rennard, complained about a "witch hunt" and "illiberal tactics that would be worthy of the Ku Klux Klan".
More than 120 party members have written to the Telegraph newspaper demanding that the peer is blocked from party activities unless he says sorry.
Mr Clegg has said Lord Rennard will not have any role in the party's 2015 election campaign.
The peer has indicated he will return to an elected position on the party's Federal Policy Committee now that the disciplinary process has ended.'Distressing situation'
Ros Gordon, chair of the Liberal Democrat Women (LDW) group, said: "LDW believe the entire process from the word go has been mishandled.
"As a result we have been left with an unsatisfactory position which has not been fair to anyone involved.
End Quote Ros Gordon Liberal Democrat Women
If he does not apologise we support the removal of the Lib Dem whip and we will be writing to the Lords to request it”
"We have been talking to senior members of the party about how LDW can contribute to resolving this distressing situation.
"We are speaking to the leader's office to arrange a meeting with Nick Clegg as soon as possible."
She called for the party to consider the activists' appeal urgently "and give an opportunity for all sides to have their say through a formal disciplinary process".
"We will stand by our request for Lord Rennard to do the right thing and apologise to the women to whom he has caused distress, whether intended or not," Ms Gordon added.
"If he does not apologise we support the removal of the Lib Dem whip and we will be writing to the Lords to request it."
A Lib Dem spokesman said: "Nick Clegg is of the view that, as long as Lord Rennard refuses the very reasonable request from Alistair Webster QC to apologise, it is inappropriate for him to rejoin the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords.
"Nick has communicated this to the Chief Whip and Leader of the House of Lords group."