Statement of Alistair Webster QC’s conclusions
Following allegations made in a Channel 4 documentary early in 2013 I was appointed under Rule 7.6 of the English Party’s membership rules to investigate and determine whether or not it was appropriate to charge Lord Rennard with acting in a way that had brought the party into disrepute. The charge, if proved, might warrant his expulsion from the Liberal Democrats or other sanction under the Party’s rules.
Let me be clear from the outset that the evidence suggests that Lord Rennard’s behaviour has caused distress to a number of women, so much so that they came forward several years after the events in question.
My enquiries were put on hold whilst the police determined whether or not to charge Lord Rennard, following a criminal investigation. The police decided that there would be no charges of this nature.
Following a well-publicised call for information, my task was to review the evidence which I received and consider whether there was a greater than 50% chance that such a charge could be proved to the standard required by the rules, i.e. proof beyond reasonable doubt.
It is important to understand that I was required, by the rules, to consider the evidence in the form of written statements. As such I have not made any findings of fact, but rather I offer my considered view on the likelihood that the allegations against Lord Rennard could be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
I received witness statements from a large number of people, male and female, from all parts of the Party, this included both Lord Rennard and complainants.
I do not consider it appropriate to publish the evidence which I received, which was obtained on terms of confidentiality. However, given the public interest which this case has aroused, and out of fairness to all parties, I have asked that this statement of my conclusions be made public.
My view, judging the evidence as a whole, is that there is a less than 50% chance that a charge against Lord Rennard could be proved to the requisite standard.
In my opinion, the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible. However, it is my judgment, considering all of the evidence collected, that it is unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way. Without proof of such an intention, I do not consider that such a charge would be tenable.
I stress that I am not finding that the evidence of the complainants was unreliable. I have specifically discounted suggestions made during the investigation that the incidents had been invented as part of a political campaign against Lord Rennard.
It is my view that Lord Rennard ought to reflect upon the effect that his behaviour has had and the distress which it caused and that an apology would be appropriate, as would a commitment to change his behaviour in future.
Response from Party President Tim Farron
The Liberal Democrats have taken the allegations made against Lord Rennard extremely seriously, which is why we appointed an eminent and experienced QC to examine the evidence. As a party we have no choice but to accept Alistair Webster QC’s conclusions, but that does not mean I am content. Nick Clegg and I are clear that we need to look again at our disciplinary procedures.
Lord Rennard is not a current employee of the party and therefore the threshold that must be met for disciplinary action is higher than if this was a company HR procedure. In Alistair Webster QC’s view that threshold was unlikely to be met.
While this process has not found to a criminal standard of proof that Lord Rennard acted with indecent intent, it is clear that he did not behave in the way that a Chief Executive should behave. Lord Rennard must reflect on his actions and apologise to the women involved.
These allegations prompted the party to take a long, hard look in the mirror. The Liberal Democrats are, and must always be, a party where everyone is treated with respect.
The experience over the last year has been extremely uncomfortable for the Liberal Democrats. We have changed a lot of things about our party – in particular our rules and codes of conduct at every level, from grassroots members to parliamentarians, how complaints are reported and addressed, and we have appointed a Pastoral Care Officer – but we must go further.
I am determined that as we continually review and improve our culture and processes we make sure that we reach the gold standard of how to protect volunteers and staff at every level of the party from harassment and inappropriate behaviour and ensure swift and just censure to those who behave in that way.
Update: 15:20. Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, appeared on TV a few minutes ago and said this:
Deputy Prime Minister:
Well it’s clear in the report that a number of women in the Liberal Democrats were subject to behaviour by someone who had a position of considerable authority that caused them real distress. That should not have happened. And I as leader of the Liberal Democrats want to apologise to each and every one of those women again. You know, people in positions of authority should never subject anyone, whoever they are, to behaviour which is offensive or inappropriate. It is as simple as that. I want everyone to be treated with respect in the Liberal Democrats. That is why it is right that Chris Rennard has been asked in this report to apologise, to reflect on his behaviour and why he won’t be playing any role in my general election plans for the campaign in 2015.
Rennard said he looks forward to resuming responsibilities?
Alistair Webster QC has said very clearly that Chris Rennard should apologise and reflect on his behaviour and that is what I hope Chris Rennard will do, because that is the unambiguous conclusion from this independent report by a QC. The fact that no steps have been taken is related to the way in which the disciplinary procedures are presently designed. I’m not content with the fact that a report concludes that, while of course we should respect the outcome of the report that nonetheless the system is such that someone has been asked to apologise, distress has been caused, and yet there are no sanctions which can be applied. And that’s why I’ve asked Tim Farron as president of the party, to review our disciplinary procedures from top to tail.
Women let down?
We’ve actually taken a very hard long look at everything, at all the procedures and rules in the Liberal Democrats, and clearly they were found wanting, clearly these women were not being listened to early enough, and that’s why they do deserve an apology, not least as this report has recommended from Chris Rennard himself. But also we need to change our rules and our procedures and we’re doing that step by step across the whole of the party. And I think there is now a case to also look at the way in which our disciplinary procedures operate and that’s what I’m asking Tim Farron to now take forward.