20 Aug 2014

Lib Dems lift Lord Rennard’s suspension

The Liberal Democrats lift Lord Rennard’s suspension from the party. But one alleged victim of sexual harassment, who resigned when he was not expelled, says they are failing to stand up for women.

The party’s former chief executive Lord Rennard has been brought back into the fold after disciplinary action linked to allegations he pestered women were dropped.

In a statement, Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg insisted that the “party has changed” and said he wanted to change the way the party’s disciplinary cases were assessed, by reducing the burden of proof from criminal to civil.

But Lib Dem activist Susan Gaszczak, an alleged victim who resigned her membership in July over the failure to expel him, said the party lacked “backbone”.

Lord Rennard said he was “pleased” that all disciplinary investigations had been brought to an end.

After police dropped their probe into Lord Rennard’s behaviour towards some women, Alistair Webster QC was drafted in last year to produce an independent report. He concluded that although the evidence against the peer was “broadly credible”, wrongdoing could not be shown beyond reasonable doubt.

Mr Webster urged the peer to “reflect upon the effect that his behaviour has had and the distress which it caused and that an apology would be appropriate”.

Lord Rennard refused to say sorry immediately, arguing that he had not even been allowed to see the full version of the QC’s report. In May this year, he said that he may have “inadvertently” encroached upon “personal space” and that he wanted to “apologise sincerely for any such intrusion”.

Video: Lord Rennard apologises for what may have been ‘inappropriate behaviour’ on 29 May, 2014

Ms Gaszczak said: “The party democracy obviously has no moral compass. They say we are credible, then fail to act on it and don’t see the impact this has on women and women voters.”

She said she did not blame Mr Clegg, saying his “hands were tied” due to the party’s rules.

Lib Dem President Tim Farron MP told Channel 4 News he thought it was unlikely that Lord Rennard would get back his job on the front bench in the House of Lords, but conceded that, as a party member, he could stand again for party office.

However Mr Farron insisted that Lord Rennard would have no part in the party’s election strategy, saying the confidence that both the public and many people in the party would have “in a campaign that was influenced by him would be very minimal to say the least, and it wouldn’t be right to do that.”

In a statement following his reinstatement, Lord Rennard said: “This has taken a long time… All allegations made about me have now been investigated thoroughly, including by the Metropolitan Police, and fell at the first hurdle as to whether or not there was sufficient evidence to proceed further.”

He said he had apologised for the “worst that might be said of me” – that he “may have inadvertently encroached on the personal space of some of the complainants”.

He added: “I remain a committed member of the Liberal Democrats and a strong believer in the principles of the party.”