Party bosses have stopped further disciplinary measures imposed on the former chief executive following allegations of sexual harassment made against him. Last night, as the women who first spoke out about Lord Rennard criticised the decision, one Yorkshire Lib Dem MP said the party is now paying the price of failing to listen to their complaints.
When police dropped their probe into Lord Rennard’s behaviour towards female activists last year, Alistair Webster QC was drafted in to produce an independent report. He concluded that although the evidence against the peer was “broadly credible”, wrong-doing could not be shown beyond reasonable doubt.
Mr Webster urged the peer to offer an apology but Lord Rennard refused to say sorry immediately – leading to his suspension from the party until a partial apology in May.
The decision to re-admit the peer was strongly criticised by some of the women who first made complaints.
Susan Gaszczak, a Lib Dem activist and one of four women to accuse the peer of inappropriate touching, 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 added: “The number of women that were getting in touch who were saying ‘I’m going to resign from the party now’ was astounding.”
She also revealed party president Tim Farron had sent her a text message to say that Lord Rennard would not play a role in the Lid Dems’ election campaign, adding: “I have had assurances privately that that would not be the case.
“I had a text message from the party president last night and they have said under no circumstances will he be advising the party.”
Bridget Harris, another Lib Dem activist to make complaints to the party, added: “I first complained about Rennard in 2003 then again in 2008 then again in 2012 and again in 2014. Credible – but still basically ignored.”
Bradford East Lib Dem David Ward claimed that while the party did not have a cultural problem with how it treats women, there were lessons to be learned.
He said: “Some people clearly made mistakes in how these complaints were at first handled, they did not do the right thing and now that is coming back to haunt us, that is where we went wrong as a party.
“But we had a QC look at the evidence and he did not believe the case was made for a prosecution. If that was different we would certainly not be readmitting Lord Rennard, but that does not seem to be the case.”
Speaking after the decision was announced, Lord Rennard said: “I am pleased that all disciplinary investigations against me have been brought to an end and that the suspension... has been lifted.
“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.
“The English Appeals Panel confirmed in July that I could not be criticised over my reaction to the previous report by Alistair Webster QC, as I was not given sight of the report for 11 weeks.
“The worst that might be said of me in that report was that I may have inadvertently encroached on the personal space of some of the complainants, and I apologised for this to all four of them.”