Internal investigation into Lord (Chris) Rennard: new statement issued by Alistair Webster QC

On Wednesday, Alistair Webster, the QC appointed by the party to examine the evidence in the disciplinary case being considered against Lord (Chris) Rennard, released this statement explaining his investigation.

A further statement has just been released today:

“In view of the extensive comment which has followed my statement, and in view of some of the statements made by those directly concerned, I wish to make the following quite clear:

“1. My report to the RPC has not been provided to any other party for one reason only: the Committee had unequivocal advice from independent solicitors that to publish it without the permission of all involved would constitute a breach of the Data Protection Act. It acted upon that advice. There is no question of the report being hidden.

“2. The alternative is to publish the report with all personal details redacted. This would, in my view, deprive it of any sensible context.

“3. In view of the advice which we had received, I prepared a summary of my conclusions. Lord Carlile QC has complained that I exceeded my brief by stating anything other than that I had concluded that no charges should be brought.

“4. I reject that view. It seemed to me that it was eminently reasonable to explain that, in my view, there was credible evidence that events had occurred which had caused distress. To have done otherwise would have been unfair to some of the complainants and would have deprived my conclusions of context.

“5. The suggestion that Lord Rennard might wish to apologise was not one I envisaged as being contentious. I viewed Lord Rennard, from the weight of the evidence submitted, as being someone who would wish to apologise to those whom he had made to feel uncomfortable, even if he had done so inadvertently. I would consider it to be common manners.

“6. Similarly, given the evidence, I would expect that Lord Rennard would wish (as I would wish, in a similar position), to reflect upon that which appears to have caused distress. I cannot see either suggestion as contentious.

“7. The statements made that there were only four statements from the complainants, set against the many others is a gross oversimplification. Other independent statements were highly relevant in my conclusion as to the likelihood of establishing that events had occurred which caused distress.

“8. Whilst there may well be scope for a legitimate debate about the standard of proof required in these cases, neither Nick Clegg or anyone else can be expected to ignore the rules and avoid due process. That is the very antithesis of all that Liberal Democrats stand for.”

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37 Comments

  • If you ask for “legal opinions” you run the risk of ending up with this sort of statement. It does not make problems go away.

    According to Alison Smith in her Telegraph piece, she first raised this issue of inappropriate behaviour by Lord Rennard with the leadership in 2007. There seems to be a six year long history of failures to act effectively by the leadership of the party during that time. Nick Clegg has been the leader of the party throughout this period. If anyone has brought the party into disrepute it is Nick Clegg.

  • Sorry but still a fudge from y perspective. I do not have a problem with advising any individual to reflect on their actions, but it is the matter of an apology that I take issue with.

    If Rennard denies the actual facts then he would be denying whether he even inadvertently caused distress. Any apology should be freely given whether considered by the author to be “good manners” or not, otherwise it means nothing.

    There is either a case to answer or there is not. If there is, there should be an open hearing, if found to have acted inappropriately there should be ramifications, if not then the matter is over or we are effectively ignoring the rule of law.

    Apologies are for individuals to decide, including the timing of them.

  • With all due respect to a QC, that seems very naive. An apology from Chris may be ‘common manners’, but it would presumably open the floodgates to legal action against him from the complainants – at least one of whom has left the party altogether and bears it, and every single person who works for it (whether involved in these matters or not), no goodwill whatsoever. Chris must have received legal advice to that effect and, in his position, to ignore such advice would be foolhardy. It wouldn’t end matters: it would merely re-open them in a much larger and much more public arena.

  • It seems that all this will do is put further pressure on Rennard to apologise, which I assume he will continue to refuse to do given the stance that he and Lord Carlile on his behalf have adopted, and that it appears that he is being readmitted to the Lords group without a debate or vote. And now possibly an investigation into why he won’t apologise. The whole thing has been an utter disaster.

  • Can we stop discussing this please? It is tearing us apart, with only a short time to the Euro elections we are wasting valuable time and effort on this.

  • Chris is being asked “to apologise to those whom he had made to feel uncomfortable, even if he had done so inadvertently”. I do not think that is much to ask, or that it will expose him to litigation claims.

    When I met Chris he put his hand on my shoulder. It made me feel slightly uncomfortable. I am not expecting an apology, but it shows how easily such things can happen.

  • The whole thing is descending into farce.

  • Sara Bedford 19th Jan '14 - 12:22pm

    If you accidentally bump into someone in the street, it is second nature to say ‘Sorry’. If you upset someone by words or deeds, most of us would leap to say ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…’. If Chris gas inadvertently invaded the personal space of others, then a sincere apology would help immensely.

    As described above, an apology does not have to imply or admit guilt. Just do it Chris and move on.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 19th Jan '14 - 12:35pm

    Personally I believe that Alistair Webster QC should be congratulated on his courage to highlight the errors of the current structure and to suggest a sensible way forward given the reality that if this investigation had been undertaken as it should have, using the civil burden of proof then the outcome may have been very different, which Alistair Webster has alluded to. I am appalled that Alistair Webster has been attacked by people who should know better, and who know the difficult situation he was put in.

    As for an apology, I would hope that Lord Rennard is deeply sorry for any distress, anxiety and harm that the victims have experienced, and would be able to apologise for any part that he may have unwittingly played in causing this. In the same circumstance I would certainly be happy saying this, in fact I am more than happy saying this and I am not involved, but I am a member of the Party that has failed to secure the welfare of its female members.

    As the English Party Diversity Champion (re-elected yesterday) gender discrimination will be overtly from this point at the fore, because if we do not look after the welfare and security of 51% of the population, we will certainly not care any more for those of us with other ‘Protected Characteristic’ that are also abused.

    I may be naive, but I believe that if we can crack the Gender Agenda and overcome this most basic of ‘ism’s’ then we will possess the template to dismantle the barriers of intolerance for all other inequalities as well. All that is actually required is for ourselves as a Party and a society to eradicate sexism is for those who possess the power to realise that change is needed now. Simply put, if we can build a critical mass of ‘Men’, for like it or not we are the problem, to commit to changing the culture in which we live and work then things will change for the better.

    Come on guys, let us join together and stop playing at being victims and lets eradicate sexism!

  • David Allen 19th Jan '14 - 1:35pm

    “An apology from Chris may be ‘common manners’, but it would presumably open the floodgates to legal action against him from the complainants.”

    That’s important to the extent that it is true, and important to the extent that it isn’t. A simple apology for causing distress inadvertently would open no floodgates. Webster is quite clear that distress was caused. Somebody who can clearly upset the hell out of several other party members, and thinks they don’t even need to say they’re sorry that it happened, doesn’t deserve the party whip.

  • Philip Rolle 19th Jan '14 - 2:41pm

    What a curious statement for a QC to make.

  • So does Anthony Webster think that an apology would be acceptable along the line of (to paraphrase him) “I wish to apologise to those who have been made to feel uncomfortable and that which appears to have caused distress, even though this was inadvertent” ?

    I just have the feeling that although whilst such a statement might satisfy the QC, there would be some (including Channel 4 journalists) who would not let this draw a line under the issue.

    And still we have little idea of what “that which appears to have caused distress” amounts to: how I sympathise with Joe King’s sentiments.

  • Liberal Neil 19th Jan '14 - 4:10pm

    I think Alistair Webster’s statement is about as good as we will get in this very messy situation.

    It may leave Chris Rennard feeling a bit hard done by, and it may not be everything some of the complainants would ideally like, but it is probably enough to satisfy most people on both sides, and we’re not going to get any better than that now.

    An apology in the terms AW has advised would not have any implications, it is clearly not an admission of guilt.

    It is also worth remembering that three of the four complainants that have gone public, along with several of those who haven’t are still active party members too.

  • Adam Robertson 19th Jan '14 - 5:10pm

    I feel quite strongly about this, in the fact, that Lord Rennard should not apologize for something, which has not been proven and therefore, he is innocent. Don’t we have a law of innocent till proven guilty?I think that is what people like Lord Carlile and Lord Tony Greaves, have been saying. I agree with that, after all we are a liberal country, aren’t we?

    I agree with Sara Bedford’s point, that if he has indirectly invaded someone’s personal space, then he should apologize for that, whether it was intentional or unintentional. It would help, I think to apologize for that, but not for the serious issue of sexual harassment, where the CPS have deemed there is not enough evidence to prosecute. It could be seen as a vendetta against Lord Rennard, if we are not careful. I do not know, Lord Rennard, personally but I think he should be given the benefit of the doubt, if the CPS believe there is not enough evidence against him.

    I completely agree with the sentiments of both R Uduwerage-Perera and Joe King. 1) I agree that we need to tackle the culture of Sexism, through a bottom-up process, instead of through legislation all the while. I think David Starkey, had a good point on Question Time, when he points out that equal pay, only suits middle-class women, not working-class women. Many women still get harassed in the workplace, partly because of the hierarchical structure of management within many organizations. You can argue that it is shocking that neither, the Liberal Democrats or Labour Party, have had a women leader. 2) Joe King, is right to say, that is tearing us apart and will lead to a catastrophe failure at the ballot box come the European Elections, where we will be on a knife-edge for the last seat in many places. Such as East Anglia for Andrew Duff. I do think the Party, have not handled this at all very well.

  • Tony Greaves 19th Jan '14 - 7:13pm

    There were only four people who made complaints to Webster so any apologies under “Webster” would only relate to those four. The real question about any apologies is in what terms, and whether they would be accepted or not. In the present stand-off it is difficult to see how that could be ascertained.

    It is clear from various sources that the campaign against Chris Rennard is being promoted and orchestrated by all four complainants AND Channel 4 journalists and that they are working closely together. People can speculate about the motives of the various parties, one of whom (the person largely fronting the campaign) is no longer a party member and is denouncing the party (and – oh yes – lots of its MPs, not to mention the whole of Parliament) in increasingly vitriolic and rather ridiculous terms.

    Tony

  • Chris Keating 19th Jan '14 - 7:47pm

    Here’s my suggestion for what Chris Rennard ought to say – I am sure Carlisle will be able to advise on whether it opens him up to future legal challenges…

    “Following the conclusions of the Police inquiry and the inquiry by Alastair Webster QC, I have taken some time to reflect on the issues raised.

    “I am pleased that neither investigation found evidence that I harrassed or assaulted anyone. I have campaigned both within the Liberal Democrats and in Parliament to increase the number of women in politics and that cause remains important to me.

    “Nonetheless, it is clear from what has been said that my actions have on some occasions caused hurt and distress. While this was never my intention, it is clearly my responsibility. To those women, I sincerely apologise. “

  • Hmm. I too think this is a very naive statement. A carefully worded apology might not open him to any legal proceedings but would definitely open him to general censure as a groping letch. However he phrases it, regardless of how many times he uses the word “inadvertent”, it would be seen as an admission of sexually inappropriate conduct. That is no small thing and is a world away from saying sorry after stepping on someone’s toe.

    Plus, according to Rennard’s earlier statement, he tried to apologise to several of the complainants before but was rebuffed. He says one woman accepted his apology but then “reneged”, by which I presume he means he thought that was the end of it but then she made a formal complaint anyway. And as others have pointed out the statements from some of the complainants make it seem that they are unlikely to be satisfied with an apology anyway.

    Nor is it an option to just “stop talking about it” because we effectively have a stand off between the Lords and the leadership, with both Rennard and his accusers evidently feeling they have been denied justice. Christ, what a mess.

  • So he’s going to be accused of bringing the Lib Dems into disrepute for not apologising for the thing he hasn’t been found guilty of?

    The Lib Dems are a politically correct joke.

  • Stephen Yolland 20th Jan '14 - 3:08am

    Look. Either Chris Rennard did something wrong or he didn’t. If, by the standards required, he did not, then frankly that is surely an end to the matter.

    Yes, I have sympathy with anyone who genuinely felt something he did was inappropriate, but if so, why did they not mention it to him there and then, and request that he desist – or an apology – immediately?

    As it stands, the possibility of civil proceedings would surely be conditioning his (and Carlisle’s) response to calls for an apology. Yes, he could certainly say “Look, no harm was intended, it certainly was inadvertent if it happened, but I recognise that distress was caused and for that I am sorry.” But if that can get him sued for damages, he is not likely to, is he?

    It seems incredible that the matter could not have been mediated – whereby if there was genuine distress then Chris could have made a private and sincere apology for inadvertently being overly touchy-feely IF he was, rather than the matter degenerating into this public mess in which no one wins. I also see no claims that he suggested anything untoward to anyone, suggested that they should curry favour with him by behaving inappropriately, for example, or anything of that sort.

    For it to spiral out of control in this manner certainly does suggest an “agenda”, and the party leadership needs to explain how they could manage to let this matter play out in this way.

    I would like to stress that I have met Chris Rennard fleetingly, but do not know him well, and I do not know any of the complainants. I just find the whole matter to now be bordering on the bizarre.

  • Stephen Yolland 20th Jan ’14 – 3:08am
    For it to spiral out of control in this manner certainly does suggest an “agenda”, and the party leadership needs to explain how they could manage to let this matter play out in this way.

    Absolutely right Stephen Yolland. For the “agenda” see today’s Guardian and the work of Mr Lawrence Davies.

    I do not know Mr Davies, maybe someone else here can let us know who he is and how long he has been working with Ch4 News on this.

  • I think Chris Keating has found the best form of words and the way forward . I think Catherines remarks are unhelpful. The issue sems to be about intrusion into personal space (which is a very contentious and wide issue for both women -and men) and not sexual assault as she suggests

  • peter tyzack 20th Jan '14 - 9:56am

    the biggest mistake was getting lawyers involved, their approach(in my experience) always seems to be toward the divisive what’s needed is a mediator or a relationship counsellor.
    What I find most annoying is that Nick Clegg’s opponents(inside as well as outside the party) are seeking to use this to harm him. In point of fact the line-management of this whole debacle comes back to the Federal Exec, which I believe is Chaired by the President? Where is he in this?… and now we have Lembit popping up on TV pronouncing on it?!!..

  • In the past I’ve voted Liberal but am not a party member. Neither am I a lawyer. In the past I’ve had recourse to the Protection of Harassment Act 1997 – thankfully I did not have to issue civil or seek criminal proceedings. I’m puzzled. The Act states:
    s.1(1) A person must not pursue a course of conduct – (a) which amounts to harassment of another, and (b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other. (2) For the purposes of this section, the person whose course of conduct is in question ought to know that it amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment of the other.

    s.2 (1) A person whotwo occasionsursues a course of conduct in breach of section 1 is guilty of an offence.

    s.7 (1) This section applies for the interpretation of sections 1 to 5. [i.e.both criminal and civil] (2) References to harassing a person include alarming the person or causing the person distress. (3) A ‘course of conduct’ must involve conduct on at least two occasions. (4) ‘Conduct’ includes speech.

    I’ve considered what I’ve heard and read about the alleged facts of this saga. As a reasonable person, s,1(2) above, I think that Lord Rennard’s conduct as declared by some of the women through the media caused them alarm and/or distress. Mr Webster QC says at 4. above “it was eminently reasonable to explain that, in my view, there was credible evidence that events had occurred which had caused distress”.

    Can a lawyer please explain why Lord Rennard’s conduct did not contravene the 1997 Act either on civil or criminal grounds?
    Was it solely because each woman was only alarmed/distressed on one occasion, s.7(3) above?
    If that is the techincal answer then surely one occasion for ecah of several women is adequate for bringing the party into disrepute.

  • Peter Rainford 20th Jan '14 - 11:21am

    Webster’s recomendation of an apology is the problem.
    His job was to decide if there was suffieicent evidence to bring charges against Lord Rennard of Bringing the party into disrepute or if there wasn’t. He decided there wasn’t. That should have been the end of it.
    He says in his first statement that he has made “no findings of Fact” but in effect by recommending that Rennard apologise fir his behaviour and stating that the allegatiions were “broadly credible” he has made factual findings.against Rennard without any opportunity for Rennard and his legal advisors to cross examine those making the allegations or present rebutal witnesses of their own. (of whom I understand there are many)

    Of course if there had been sufficient evidence to bring the charge of bringing the party into disrepute Lot Rennard would have been able to cross examinme his accusers.

    To suggest now that Rennard’s refusal to apologise for behaviour which he strenuosly denies, and the evidence forwhich does not merit charges and whichtherefore has not been tersted evidentially is a Kafkaesque abuse of process.

  • @Sara Bedford 19th Jan ’14 – 12:22pm
    If you accidentally bump into someone in the street, it is second nature to say ‘Sorry’.

    This, I think makes an interesting point. The apology is made at the time and to the person(s) involved. I don’t see the point of making a public apology to all and sundry for bumping into a few people in the street at sometime in the past – who I may not have apologized to at the time. This isn’t to trivialise what may or may not have happened, only that are our expectations about the form in which the apology should be made right?

  • @ Neil cliff – I didn’t mean to be unhelpful and I’m sorry if I was. But that, in a way, illustrates my point. I can easily apologise for something like that, where I may have unintentionally caused offence but which carries no unpleasant stigma. If you had just accused me of some form of sexual misconduct I would not be so ready with my apologies, especially if I believed myself to be innocent.

    Technically, he is being asked to apologise for “invasion of personal space causing unintentional distress”, but that’s NOT what he has been, and still is being, accused of by the complainants. They have made allegations of a clearly sexual nature and therefore by apologising he will, by implication, be seen to be admitting that he is some kind of sex pest. A very low level one, granted, but still. That is something that carries a significant social stigma – and rightly so.

    That’s why this isn’t the same as asking someone to apologise for accidentally bumping into someone on the street. How many people here would offer an apology that would unavoidably brand them as a letch? Honestly? Even if you believed it to be untrue?

    And I’m sorry but for an eminent QC to say he thinks an apology with such connotations is “not contentious” does sound…well, disingenuous at best.

  • @Michael Hall 2:44pm
    Thanks and noted. The 1997 Act inserted ‘(1A) This section does not apply to any action brought for damages under section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.’ in Limitation Act 1980 s. 11 Special time limit for actions in respect of personal injuries.
    What then is the time imit for any civil action please?

  • @Michael Hall
    Thanks & noted.

  • David Evershed 22nd Jan '14 - 2:27am

    Never waste the opportunities of a good crisis.

    The Lib Dems should push strongly that they will not allow party officers, however powerful, to explot their position and in particular not allow bullying or harrassment.

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