'Do decent thing and apologise', Clegg urges Lord Rennard

Published on Thursday, 16 January 2014 11:55
Written by Daniel Mason

Lord Rennard will not play any role in the Liberal Democrats' general election campaign in 2015, party leader Nick Clegg confirmed today as he called on the peer to "do the decent thing and apologise".

Rennard has so far refused to say sorry after an internal party investigation found that he had "caused distress to a number of women" whose accusations of sexual harassment were "broadly credible".

Despite the conclusions, he will not face a disciplinary hearing because it was unlikely the claims could be proved beyond reasonable doubt, according to Alistair Webster QC, who led the inquiry.

Following the publication of the findings, Webster said: "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 the future."

Today Clegg, speaking on LBC radio, reiterated the call for an apology and added that it was a "matter of very real regret" that Rennard had chosen not to do so.

"At the end of the day, if someone is not prepared to do the decent thing and apologise to people, I cannot frogmarch them to do so," the deputy prime minister said. "But I would nonetheless appeal to their basic decency to do it."

However, Lord Carlile, Rennard's legal representative and a fellow Lib Dem peer, insisted there was "no reason" for his client to apologise, and accused the party of a "terrible example of secret justice" for refusing both men access to Webster's report.

Rennard has consistently denied the allegations, made by at least 10 women.

Meanwhile Clegg said he was "very clear" that Rennard would not play a role in the election campaign next year.

The Lib Dem leader also admitted that the party "did not have the right procedures" and "did not provide sufficient protection to these women" when the original complaints were raised.

"The buck stops with me and I've said very clearly there are a number of failures. I think the party as a whole and myself as leader we've got to take responsibility for the fact we failed to respond to the concerns."

Clegg added that the party's procedures had changed "dramatically" since the Rennard affair came to light, and that party president Tim Farron had been asked to consider whether the burden of proof for internal disciplinary hearings was too high.

One of the party activists who accused Rennard, Alison Goldsworthy, described the decision not to go ahead disciplinary action as "cowardice", while another, Bridget Harris, said she would leave the party if the peer was not forced out.

The party investigation followed the Metropolitan police's decision last year not press charges against Rennard over the claims, which related to the period 2003 to 2007.

Rennard, who stepped down as the party's chief executive in 2009 on health grounds, said he "looked forward to resuming my roles within the Liberal Democrats". His still sits on the party's federal policy committee.

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