Liberal Democrats 'screwed up' over handling of Lord Rennard allegations, says Kendal MP Tim Farron (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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Liberal Democrats 'screwed up' over handling of Lord Rennard allegations, says Kendal MP Tim Farron
1:01pm Monday 25th February 2013 in News
The Liberal Democrats 'screwed-up' over their handling of alleged inappropriate behaviour by the Liberal Democrats' former chief executive, Lord Rennard, party president Tim Farron MP said this morning.
Speaking on the today programme this morning, Mr Farron said: a "completely full and open inquiry into how we got this wrong" was under way and insisted that he had heard only a "general rumour" before the complaints were broadcast.
"The one thing I probably can tell you without going through due process is that we screwed this up as a party," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"There are individuals out there who we had a duty of care towards and we did not fulfil that duty of care. That is something that we have to learn from, apologise for and make sure it never happens again."
Asked when he first heard of allegations against Lord Rennard, he said: "A general rumour I heard a year or so ago but no specifics, not even who or what or when or anything.
"In my job you come across quite a lot of gossip and it is difficult to know how you separate out general unspecific gossip from specific complaints.
"That is why we, as a party, with independent help and with real rigour, are now going to look at ourselves.
"My job as party president is not to defend the Liberal Democrats in this, in fact quite the opposite: it is to find out what happened and ensure these women get justice because I'm afraid they are the people who have been lost in... all the political furore."
Asked if he believed Conservatives were trying to whip up the controversy, he said: "They have to answer for that. All I can do is make sure I deal with the real job at hand."
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg insisted today that he has "got nothing to hide" over the way he dealt with concerns raised over alleged inappropriate behaviour by Lord Rennard.
The Deputy Prime Minister faces questions over a cover-up after he yesterday admitted knowing five years ago about claims of alleged sexual harassment by the peer.
Mr Clegg said today that he "didn't use the word 'screwed up'" about the way the party had handled the incident.
But he said he "suspected" the inquiries he has ordered into the allegations would show party procedures were flawed.
Mr Clegg said the party had confronted Lord Rennard with the concerns, which had been made anonymously, and he strenuously denied them.
The Lib Dem leader said he did not know that a woman he worked closely with had made claims about the peer until the Channel 4 investigation.
He added: "I've got absolutely nothing to hide, why would I? 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.
"I know her well enough and I'm actually very fond of her so I feel for her and I want us to do, of course, the right thing, which we will do by these investigations.
"The problem, as I explained yesterday, is that 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."
Mr Clegg's former chief of staff Danny Alexander - now Chief Secretary to the Treasury - confronted Lord Rennard with the claims and "warned him that any such behaviour was wholly unacceptable" after general concerns were raised in 2008.
The peer - a key party strategist and adviser to a succession of Lib Dem leaders before standing down in 2009 - has said he is "deeply shocked" by the allegations, which he "strongly disputes" and regards as a "total distortion" of his character.