Senior Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard will not apologise to female activists who accused him of sexual harassment, despite an investigation by a leading lawyer concluding he should say sorry.
Disciplinary proceedings against the party’s former chief executive were dropped after a QC concluded there was a less than 50 per cent chance the allegations could be proved beyond reasonable doubt, although there was broadly credible evidence of “behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants”.
Lord Rennard’s legal representative, fellow Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile, said there was no reason for an apology and criticised Alistair Webster QC, who was appointed by the party to investigate the allegations, for making that recommendation.
Party leader Nick Clegg has ruled Lord Rennard out of playing a role in his 2015 election campaign, but the peer has rejoined the Lib Dem group in the House of Lords and will return to his duties as an elected member of a key policy committee.
The end of the disciplinary process, which followed a decision by the Metropolitan Police not to press criminal charges, was met with dismay by some of the women who accused Lord Rennard.
Alison Smith told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Unfortunately it’s a bit of a fudge that doesn’t really seem to please anybody and it raises more questions than it answers.”
She said “hell would freeze over” before Lord Rennard apologised but “the first step to rehabilitation is to admit that you have done something wrong”.
Lord Carlile said Mr Webster had concluded that the allegations could not have been proven on either the criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” or the lower civil test of proof, and Lord Rennard had always denied any wrongdoing.
Lord Carlile told Today that Mr Webster examined four statements with complaints relating to Lord Rennard and “about 100 which refuted those complaints”.
Asked if Lord Rennard would apologise, Lord Carlile said: “No, because there’s no reason why he should because he has denied these allegations which have not been tried. Alistair Webster should not have said that.”
He said neither he nor Lord Rennard had seen the Webster report in full, which was a “terrible example of secret justice”.
Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg said: “People in positions of authority should never subject anyone to behaviour which is offensive or inappropriate. It is as simple as that.
“I want everyone to be treated with respect in the Liberal Democrats. That is why it is right that Chris Rennard has been asked in the report to apologise, to reflect on his behaviour and why he won’t be playing any role in my general election plans for the campaign in 2015.”