The Lib Dems have launched an investigation into party procedures after allegations of harassment and sexual impropriety against the party's former chief executive, Lord Rennard, hailed as one of the party's leading thinkers.
The party is to launch a full review into how allegations of harassment are handled within the party, after the report by Channel 4 News. Rennard's lawyers have described the claims as "completely untrue".
The allegations could prove damaging to the current Minster for Women Jo Swinson. Complaints were allegedly made to Swinson when she was Lib Dem spokeswomen on Women and Equality, but a former Lib Dem activist said her complaint was never taken further.
The accusations are against former chief executive Lord Rennard
The women who spoke to the broadcaster also claim they complained to the party's chief whip over the alleged inappropriate touching, behaviour and language of the peer, but say no action was taken.
A new review group had its first meeting Wednesday, the party said.
The party said in a statement following the report on Thursday night: "In view of the serious allegations put to us by Channel 4 and the concerns raised about how such issues have been handled in the past, Nick Clegg has asked Tim Farron, the party president, to establish an immediate review into all our procedures for dealing with these issues, including a thorough examination of how allegations made in the past have been handled.
"An internal investigation into the specific allegations raised by Channel 4 has begun under the Party's disciplinary procedures.
"We will not tolerate harassment in our Party and we urge anyone to contact the Chief Executive or use our confidential whistle blower procedure if they have issues they wish to raise as a result of Channel 4's report."
Rennard resigned in 2009 for “family and health reasons” but is still an active figure in the party. In a statement to Channel 4, his lawyers said he "always strived to conduct himself responsibly and appropriately at all times and has no recollection of any inappropriate behaviour. In addition, our client is unaware of any complaint about his conduct ever being made against him."
One of the women who spoke to Channel Four was Bridget Harris, a former special advisor to Clegg. She claimed that Rennard repeatedly touched her legs and knees at a conference in 2003, then invited her to his room. She was made to "feel embarrassed, upset and disappointed," she said.
She reported the incident to her line managers.
Minister for Women Jo Swinson heard of the allegations in 2008
Other women accuse Rennard of putting his hands down the back of their clothes, and one, Alison Smith, said she confronted him about his actions after he allegedly attempted to grope her and a friend, and reported it to the party's then chief whip, Paul Burstow.
"He listened very patiently and sounded very concerned and then basically said he would do something about it and be in touch, but he never was," she said.
She also alleged telling Jo Swinson, the current minister for women, who also investigated, but then told Smith nobody wanted to make a formal complaint.
Ms Smith added: "It very quickly became quite Kafkaesque. They were saying, 'No one wants to make a formal complaint', and I was saying, 'I'll make a formal complaint,' and they were saying, 'That's a shame because no one wants to make a formal complaint'."
Channel Four aired a leaked email sent in October 2008 by a former Lib Dem campaigns officer to women in the party, stated: "There has been a long-standing problem with a number of women where the abuse of Chris's [Lord Rennard's] position was clearly inappropriate.
"I've discussed this today with Jo Swinson, who was aware of a number of cases ... Jo tells me that a recent conversation has been had by somebody senior in the party with Chris, and he has been informed that the behaviour has to stop."
Rennard's lawyers said: "In the case of Ali Smith, he denies behaving improperly ... In addition, Lord Rennard describes as completely untrue any suggestion that he resigned as chief executive as a result of allegations about inappropriate behaviour."
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