Eastbourne Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Chris Rennard has taken a step closer to legal action after he had his party membership temporarily suspended this week over sexual harassment claims.
The political stalwart, who has a home in Eastbourne, was temporarily suspended after he refused to apologise over claims he had sexually harassed female party members, which he has always vehemently denied.
The party’s former chief executive is expected to seek a court order to try and halt disciplinary proceedings against him as to whether he brought the party into disrepute for not following an independent report’s recommendation that he apologise to the women. The saga has cause a deep division with the Liberal Democrats with some politicians calling for the party to resolve the issue through an independent mediator.
The Herald asked Eastbourne Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd for a comment but by the time the paper went to press there had been no reply.
Lord Rennard, 53, has worked for the Lib Dems since his student days in Liverpool. He became campaigns and election director for the whole party, overseeing a host of by-election victories between 1989 and 2003 as the Lib Dems grew in size. He was chief executive between 2003 and 2009, serving three leaders: Charles Kennedy, Sir Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg.
He became a peer in 1999 and stepped down from his role within the party in 2009 citing ill health and the difficulties of managing a diabetic condition. The party’s original internal investigation, led by senior barrister Alistair Webster QC, concluded the claims against Lord Rennard by four women could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
But it also said the evidence of the women who lodged complaints was “broadly credible” and urged the peer to apologise.
Lord Rennard has expressed concerns that an apology would be an admission of guilt and make him liable to potential legal proceedings by his accusers.In a statement on his Facebook page this week, Lord Rennard said he had been “enormously distressed” by the situation and was too ill to attend the House of Lords on Monday.
The peer said he had not heard from party leader Nick Clegg in 11 months and added, “I would advise my friends in the party to let the matter rest, as it should have done, with the simple conclusion of the independent investigator that there should be no further action.”