SCOTLAND Yard yesterday confirmed it would investigate sexual harassment claims made against a former Lib Dem official as the scandal continued to engulf the party.
The news came as a former party insider told City A.M. that female Lib Dems decided to go public with their claims against Lord Rennard after the peer was allowed to return to an active role in the party.
Rennard, the party’s former chief executive and architect of its election strategy, strenuously denies any wrongdoing.
The source told City A.M. that they were contacted by two female party members in early 2009. The women wanted to seek publicity for their claims after becoming exasperated with the party’s internal response to allegations about the peer.
“There was frustration that the party wasn’t doing anything about it and they felt it was not being treated seriously and in a hapless way,” the former official claimed yesterday.
At the time neither woman was willing to go on the record and Rennard stood down on health grounds later that year. However, in November 2012 he won election to the party’s powerful federal policy committee, allegedly prompting the women to revive their claims.
“Lord Rennard had been elected to the committee and had begun appearing in a more formal function and it did appear as though he was being reintegrated into the party.”
The ex-official claimed they witnessed the sway that Rennard held over the party in the late 2000s: “He controlled the budgets and was essentially choosing who was elected and selected. There was the general sense that he was untouchable. If you got onto the wrong side of him you might as well not be in the Lib Dems if you were an aspiring politician.”
“These were largely women who were in the power of Lord Rennard.”
Nick Clegg’s office insists the deputy prime minister was only aware of “indirect and non-specific concerns” about the peer’s behaviour when he ordered his then chief of staff – and current Treasury minister – Danny Alexander to confront Rennard about the claims in 2008.
Yesterday Tim Farron, the party’s President, admitted “we screwed this up”. The party has appointed an independent whistleblowing organisation and launched an internal inquiry.