The Liberal Democrats have apologised to Eastbourne based peer Lord Rennard for mishandling part of his disciplinary process and dropped their investigation into whether he brought the party into disrepute by refusing to say sorry to female activists who accused him of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
The peer and former chief executive is now under investigation only over the issue of whether his “criticisms of party processes” on social media and in the press have harmed the reputation of the Lib Dems, which means he continues to be suspended from the party in the House of Lords.
In addition, a senior Lib Dem official apologised to Rennard over the fact the party told the media an appeal against his suspension had been rejected before the peer himself was informed of the ruling.
At a meeting recently of Lib Dem peers, among whom Rennard still has strong support, the party agreed that Lord Wallace of Tankerness would investigate how the leak had occurred. The partial climbdown on the scope of the investigation is the latest twist in a 17-month battle between Rennard, the party and his four female accusers, who maintain he touched them inappropriately.
An inquiry by Alistair Webster QC into the women’s claims found they were credible but concluded there was not sufficient evidence that Rennard had acted in a sexually inappropriate way sufficient to bring any disciplinary charges. He did, however, raise the possibility that the peer might “reflect upon the effect that his behaviour has had and the distress which it caused and that an apology would be appropriate”.
Rennard’s refusal to do so led to his suspension for potentially bringing the party into disrepute.
Rennard, who has always denied touching the women inappropriately, said in May this year – 15 months after the original claims – he was sorry if he had inadvertently encroached on the women’s personal space.
The Lib Dems have now decided there is no longer any reason to continue the investigation into this issue of the apology, especially as he had initially not been allowed to see a full report about his conduct for 11 weeks. However, the suspension was upheld over his “criticism of party processes”.
Rennard has been informed by a disciplinary body of Lib Dem that the investigation of him is now on the basis of “media and social media comments made by you, endorsed by you and made on your behalf that have attacked the party and the party processes publicly since the announcement of the report results”.
A Lib Dem spokesman confirmed the party was no longer investigating Rennard’s failure to apologise.