12 Jun 2013

Lib Dem ‘failure’ over Rennard harassment claims – report

Nick Clegg should have ordered a formal inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment against Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard, an investigation into the party’s handling of the claims has found.

After Channel 4 News made the allegations public in February, the Liberal Democrats asked businesswoman and party supporter Helena Morrissey to conduct an investigation into its handling of the affair.

Women who worked for the Lib Dems made claims to Channel 4 News that Lord Rennard, the party’s most powerful official, had made unwanted sexual advances towards them. He strenuously denied the allegations.

‘Sobering reading

Ms Morrissey found that the party’s current system for dealing with such matters has “too much margin for error” and is too informal.

She criticised the failure to make any formal note of the various allegations: “I do not believe that these mistakes were deliberate or malicious or that the leadership at the time did not take them seriously, but it is evident that much more could and should have been done.”

Mr Clegg described her findings as “sobering reading” and said he took responsibility for the lack of correct processes to support the women who had come forward.

More from Channel 4 News: Lib Dems: allegations of sexual impropriety

Ms Morrissey also described the approach of Lib Dem ministers Jo Swinson and Danny Alexander as “ultimately not sufficient.” She said that in addition to the allegations against Lord Rennard made by four women, her review had uncovered wider examples of “low-level sexism” and a “reluctance to investigate” within the party.

The party’s former chief whip Paul Burstow told the investigation that he now “deeply regrets that he did not ask [the women] to make a formal complaint or discuss the allegations with the then party president.” The report found that he should have “proactively taken the issue to the president.”

‘Not fair’

Ms Morrissey concluded that: “Overall, this is a salutary lesson in what can go wrong if due process is not followed. Unresolved issues fester and come back to haunt everyone. It is not fair on the women, not fair on the accused and causes great propensity for misunderstanding and further accusations.

“In particular, the addressing of complaints needs to be a higher priority for the party and not just something to be dealt with in a crisis. There will always be something else competing for attention. Media interest will often peak when other issues are preoccupying the party.”

The report recommends that if someone is found guilty of gross misconduct their file should be clearly marked to make HR aware so that appropriate actions are taken if, for example, he or she applies for another role or asks for a reference.

Ms Morrissey did not interview Lord Rennard “on the advice of his lawyers”.

Scotland Yard is currently investigating allegations against him.