UK & World News

  • 21 January 2014, 22:23

Lord Rennard In Legal Action Against Lib Dems

Lord Rennard has begun legal proceedings against the Liberal Democrats after he was suspended for failing to apologise over allegations of sexual harassment.

The Lib Dems announced on Monday that the peer was being investigated for bringing the party into disrepute because of his failure to apologise to four women party activists who had made allegations against him.

Lord Rennard was due to retake his seat as part of the Lib Dem group in the House of Lords after an internal party inquiry last week said he should not face a disciplinary hearing over the accusations.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg ordered the peer to issue the apology after the earlier inquiry concluded that the women's claims were credible - but there was insufficient evidence to bring disciplinary charges.

Mr 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".

The peer, who has strongly maintained his innocence throughout, refused to apologise, in part because of warnings that to do so could leave him "defenceless" in the event of a civil action against him.

A spokesman for Lord Rennard said he has instructed a QC specialising in public law to advise him on the "lawfulness or otherwise" of the decision to launch a second inquiry into his conduct.

With one of the women whom he is alleged to have harassed refusing to rule out a counter claim against the peer, the Lib Dems are faced with the prospect of becoming embroiled in a series of damaging court battles which could drag on for months.

The row over Lord Rennard's treatment has opened up bitter divisions within the party, with his supporters claiming he has been subjected to a kangaroo court while critics have argued that swifter, tougher action should have been taken against him.

After the second investigation was announced on Monday, 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.

He also said: "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."

In the statement he said he had suffered depression and anxiety that had led him to contemplate self harm.

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