UK & World News
Lord Rennard Threatens Action Over Suspension
Lord Rennard has threatened legal action after being suspended by the Lib Dems for refusing to apologise to women at the centre of sex harassment claims.
It followed a party statement which said the peer was being investigated for bringing the party into disrepute because of his failure to apologise to the women party activists who had made allegations against him.
Lord Rennard was due to retake his seat as part of the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords after an internal party inquiry last week said he should not face a disciplinary hearing over the accusations.
Nick Clegg had warned the former party chief executive that unless he apologised there would be further action saying "no apology, no whip" and urging him to "do the decent thing".
Shortly after news of the fresh investigation, Lord Rennard issued an extraordinarily personal three-page statement in which he said that he had been the victim of a smear campaign by the media and a "whispering campaign" within the party.
In the statement he said he:
:: Resigned in 2009 after warning Mr Clegg he had become the victim of smears over House of Lords allowances, claims of which he was later exonerated
:: Had suffered depression and anxiety that had led him to contemplate self harm
:: Knew that at least two of the women who complained about his behaviour had been subjected to media pressure to tell their stories
:: Had previously offered to meet the women who had made claims and met one of them in 2011 and apologised if his behaviour had caused distress
:: Was the victim of a "whispering campaign" by people who had a personal grudge against him to limit his involvement in the 2010 election campaign
:: Had been warned by doctors in 2007 that he was at risk of heart attack or stroke.
He added: "It is impossible to describe how enormously distressed I am by this situation and I am certainly too ill to attend the House of Lords today."
The statement from the Liberal Democrats said: "Nick Clegg made clear last week, and again this morning, that it would be inappropriate for Lord Rennard to resume the Liberal Democrat whip unless he apologises. Lord Rennard has refused to do so.
"The Regional Parties Committee, which oversees disciplinary procedures under the English Party membership rules, today decided to suspend Lord Rennard's membership of the party pending a disciplinary procedure.
"As such, he cannot return to the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords.
"Lord Rennard will now be investigated for bringing the party into disrepute on the grounds of his failure to apologise as recommended by Alistair Webster QC."
A spokesman for Lord Rennard described the committee's decision as "extraordinary" and said the peer was "taking legal advice with a view to civil action against the party".
The spokesman added: "He does not wish to see legal action between fellow Liberal Democrats, but his membership of the party matters more to him than anything apart from family and friends. Indeed he feels that the party is also his family."
But Bridget Harris, a former aide to the Lib Dem leader and one of the women who alleged she was harassed by Lord Rennard, welcomed the decision to suspend the peer.
Ms Harris told Sky News: "I think Nick felt deeply responsible that all of this happened and technically, on paper, it felt like there was very little the leadership could do.
"But actually, as it has turned out today, there is something we can do. We can send a strong message that this kind of behaviour is not tolerated."
In his conclusions last week Mr Webster found that while it was clear "Lord Rennard's behaviour has caused distress to a number of women" and that the women's evidence was "credible", the claims could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Mr Webster concluded that Lord Rennard should reflect on his behaviour and apologise to those women involved.
:: Watch Sky News live on television, on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.