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Nick Clegg On Rennard: I've Nothing To Hide
Nick Clegg has insisted he has "nothing to hide" over the handling of allegations about sexual harassment by his party's former chief executive.
The Deputy Prime Minister is facing accusations of a cover-up after admitting he knew five years ago about the claims against Lord Rennard.
Several women have accused the peer of inappropriately touching and propositioning female party workers, which he strenuously denies.
Mr Clegg admitted on Sunday that his office had been aware of "indirect and non-specific concerns" about his conduct back in 2008 but insisted the party had acted properly.
Amid further questions about exactly what he knew, the Lib Dem leader said on Monday: "Until last week, no very specific allegations were put to me.
"We acted on general concerns which had been expressed sometime ago but, of course, now that those general concerns have evolved into specific allegations, we can act and we will."
He added: "I have got nothing to hide, the party has nothing to hide ... I totally understand people have got lots and lots of questions but I hope I have given a full, frank, honest account.
"I happen to know some of these women very well. One of them worked for me. I spoke to her just last night. She never, ever said anything about this until now."
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems announced that criminal lawyer Alistair Webster QC will lead a formal internal investigation into allegations against Lord Rennard under the party's disciplinary rules.
Mr Webster will lead a panel of four other people, including three women.
In his statement on Sunday, Mr Clegg said he was "angry and outraged" at the suggestion he would not have acted had the allegations been put to him.
"When indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard's conduct reached my office in 2008, we acted to deal with them," he said.
"My chief of staff at the time, Danny Alexander, put these concerns to Chris Rennard and warned him that any such behaviour was wholly unacceptable."
Mr Clegg's aides have insisted that he only learned about the specific complaints made against Lord Rennard after a Channel 4 News report last week.
But the women claim they reported Lord Rennard's alleged behaviour to senior party officials at the time, but no further action was taken.
There are now new reports that Mr Clegg's chief of staff Jonny Oates was contacted about detailed allegations back in 2010.
The Telegraph published on its website an exchange of emails in which it listed five allegations and gave dates and locations for the alleged inappropriate acts.
It also said the paper knew the identities of the women concerned and suggested that Jo Swinson and Mr Alexander had been involved in investigations into Lord Rennard's alleged conduct.
Mr Oates replied at the time: "It is untrue to state that Mr Clegg was made aware of the incidents you allege.
"Given this fact, it is obviously untrue to state that Mr Clegg asked Jo Swinson or anyone else to carry out an investigation into the incidents that you allege."
Lib Dem President Tim Farron - who is now overseeing a new inquiry - has acknowledged the party "screwed this up".
"We screwed this up as a party. There are individuals out there who we had a duty of care towards and we did not fulfil that duty of care," he said.
Lord Rennard was a key party strategist and adviser to a succession of Liberal Democrat leaders before standing down due to ill health in 2009.
He has said he is "deeply shocked" by the allegations, which he "strongly disputes" and regards as a "total distortion" of his character.
Former Lib Dem head of press Mark Littlewood said: "Nick Clegg is definitely going to have to outline and spell out in exact detail what he knew and when and what actions he took."
Labour's shadow minister for equalities and women, Kate Green, said: "At issue is not just a series of serious allegations from a number of women, but how the Liberal Democrat Party responded to those allegations.
"Only with a fully independent investigation can the public have confidence that the truth will prevail and lessons learned for the future."