Lord Rennard issues apology to four women: “regret for any harm or embarrassment caused to them”

Channel 4 News last night revealed that Lib Dem peer and former chief executive Lord (Chris) Rennard has issued a written apology to four of the women who accused him of sexual impropriety. You can read it in full below.

Read the Lord Rennard Letter in full by Channel4News

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37 Comments

  • Helen Quenet 30th May '14 - 9:39am

    Did I miss the bit where he said he wouldn’t do it again?

  • There are current party members amongst the women.

    Also, does no-one mind that they have been quite unjustly called liars for the last year and a half?

  • If he had issued this apology at the time it was asked for that might have been a different story but now ? Its a classic case of “Too little, too late.”
    I dont see that The Party has any choice but expulsion.

  • What earthly difference does it make whether this man’s victims are party members or not? Sexual harassment and intimidation is the same regardless of what party one belongs to. It does not stop being grossly improper and hurtful because one is not a member of a political party, or leaves that party. Nor does the party’s responsibility to prevent it and make amends for it stop when the victims stop being party members.

  • Simon Oliver 30th May '14 - 12:38pm

    I find it bizarre that anyone would call for his expulsion for making this apology.

    The persecution of this loyal servant of the party must stop.

  • Does he think the line where he says

    “He also hopes that they will accept that the events of the last fourteen months have been a most unhappy experience for him, his family and friends and for the party”

    is of any interest to his victims ?

    The women have had the unhappy experience for a lot longer than 14 months !!

  • It reads quite well until ‘inadvertent’! *sigh*

  • “David-1 30th May ’14 – 12:04pm
    What earthly difference does it make whether this man’s victims are party members or not? Sexual harassment and intimidation is the same regardless of what party one belongs to. It does not stop being grossly improper and hurtful because one is not a member of a political party, or leaves that party. Nor does the party’s responsibility to prevent it and make amends for it stop when the victims stop being party members.”

    Thank you David-1, that is exactly right.

  • That is not an apology.

  • and now this:

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/30/lord-rennard-apology-held-back-elections-carlile-liberal-democrats-nick-clegg

    If the letter didn’t even get sent to the women concerned or weeks after party grandees saw it then this ‘apology’ is worth even less!

  • Did he really only get a copy of the report this months ??? Secret courts internally as well in the wider justic system it appears.

  • Lord Carlile tells BBC that both Leader and President were MISLED into putting out wrong press statements. !!!!!!

    “And I’m sure they were misled by party officials and I’m sure that Mr Clegg and Tim Farron cannot have read the Webster report when they issued those misleading statements.

    “They commented after I assume being misled as to what was in it.

    “It’s an accurate allegation. I don’t know who to make it against as I don’t know who briefed Mr Clegg.”

    Former Liberal party leader David Steel has said Rennard’s apology should bring an end to a bitter dispute about his conduct.

  • Phyllis 30th May ’14 – 2:54pm

    You and I usually agree on things so I hope we can have some agreement on this too.
    It is easy to agree on easy things, more difficult to agree on complex, controversial personal matters of a sexual/political career nature which have been splashed all over the media.

    You ask what difference it makes if some of the people involved are party members. I would ask you to think through that. The criticism heaped on another Lord who has torn up his membership card this week might inform your thoughts. Once outside the party some of the statements of that other Lord have not been too helpful. Once outside the party people start to operate by different rules. I am not criticising anyone — it is just a fact of life.

    Now – I am not friends with either of these Lords. I have met one of them and the only conversation of any length I have had with that one was when I was I was carrying out an enquiry on behalf of the Electoral Reform Society.
    The point is that’s I have no axe to grind. I am not in anybody’s camp.

    Can I ask you – if you were sitting as a magistrate and weighing up the evidence how would judge all this ?
    I assume that like me you only know what has been reported in the media .

    A brief summary of the story so far is in a comment above from Philip Young.
    He writes —
    ” An extensive party inquiry, following a police inquiry, both came to the same conclusion – he is not guilty of anything, so any Liberal would want to see him given the benefit of the doubt.
    The request for the apology only adding months of further agony onto all parties – but then if this was not in the conclusion of the report of the Webster inquiry, and merely an add on by the Party afterwards, its hardly helped bring matters to a conclusion.
    Meanwhile, Rennard has been punished by being out of the party for the best part of two years – despite insufficient evidence for any kind of punishment.”

    Now nobody in this party who knows me or who has read the things that I write in comments in LDV would suggest that I am afraid to criticise the powers that be. But I think that Phillip Young makes very important points.

    Liberals do normally believe in giving people a fair hearing.
    Liberals believe justice must be based on evidence.

    I find it difficult to believe that in any other ” workplace ” where such evidence has been presented that a two year suspension would not be taken into account.

    Perhaps I am being “old fashioned”, perhaps as a man in my sixties I will not be considered capable of thinking about such matters impartially, or perhaps I have missed some evidence. But as Phillip Young says there have been two enquiries, one by the police, one by the party surely their conclusions cannot be just tossed aside as irrelevant ?

  • Liberals do normally believe in giving people a fair hearing.
    Liberals believe justice must be based on evidence.

    But as Phillip Young says there have been two enquiries, one by the police, one by the party surely their conclusions cannot be just tossed aside as irrelevant ?

    Amen to that!

  • Steve Comer 30th May '14 - 8:52pm

    This whole sorry saga is once again highlighting the amateurish and ham fisted way the Party has handled the allegations against Lord Rennard. We then faced the ridiculous position that he was being asked to make an apology on the basis of a report he had not seen. He has now seen the Webster report, and he has now issued an apology which he was asked to do. I don’t know why it took until March 7th for him to see the report, and form then until now to clear this up, but the whole messy business has dragged on for too long, and no remedy is every going to appear fair to all parties involved..

    I had a lot of experience in dealing with complaints about bullying, and personal conflicts in over 20 years as a Trade Unionist in the Civil Service. When complaints and investigation drag on you often get into situation where positions harden, and no solution can be found that will satisfy everyone. I remember one case where I had to say a complainant who had his complaint upheld “if they’d hung him you’d have come back to me and said what about the drawing and quartering?”

    The party must learn form this saga and adopt policies to deal with complaint better (and without using QCs). I would suggest a good start would be to look for the ACAS Advice leaflet – Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers. It can be downloaded free from ACAS website.

  • Tony Greaves 30th May '14 - 11:39pm

    It is very clear that there is no further case to answer. There is no case to answer on the initial allegations of sexual harassment, on which Chris Rennard was cleared by both the police and Alistair Webster. The mediation which was attempted (after I first called for this several months ago) did not succeed – it appears to be the case that at least some of the four women were not willing to engage seriously with that process (though Chris did everything that was asked of him) which is borne out by repeated demands for Chris’s expulsion from the party.

    Since the current (second) disciplinary procedure was set up solely on the basis of Chris’s refusal to apologise on the basis of the findings of a report he had not been allowed to see (in contravention of the party’s rules), and he issued an appropriate apology as soon as he was very belatedly provided with a copy so that he could see what he was being asked to apologise for, it is not clear why the procedure is still continuing.

    It is clear from the repeated demands by three of the complainants for Chris’s expulsion that they are still basing this on their claims of sexual harassment. Those claims have been investigated by the due processes of the police and the party and found wanting. The apology that was requested was not in relation to sexual harassment claims and was offered at the first opportunity.

    The further demands for action against Chris Rennard and any further action that may take place look more and more like a very illiberal witch hunt.

    The due processes of the party may be tortuous and less than efficient, and therefore less than fair to both sides. But they have been thorough and should be respected. If we are not prepared to respect due process I suggest we have no right to call ourselves Liberals.

    Tony Greaves

  • Why hasn’t the Webster report been published so that we could make an informed judgement?
    Chris’s apology refers to ‘comfort space’ . Which varies with individuals but is not groping. Can the Party also confirm that it was Webster and not Clegg who required an apology.
    This has been handled incompetently by Clegg and Farron which isn’t surprising because neither of them have any managerial training or experience.
    Perhaps we should read the Webster report so that we can see how he judged the evidence and whether he advised an apology.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 31st May '14 - 8:51am

    I am not opposed in principle to Lord Rennard returning to the party at some point i the future. However, I don’t think we’re in a position to put forward an opinion on that just yet:

    1) He must acknowledge the additional hurt caused by the way his personal advisers and associates have dismissed the concerns of the women to whom he has now apologised.

    2) There are still two processes in place which must be gone through. The only people who have seen the evidence are the parties to the proceedings and the rest of us should be very wary about rushing to judgement.

  • As Caron correctly points out, the processes that need to be gone through are not yet complete, and this is not yet the moment that a decision on whether to lift Lord Rennard’s suspension is going to happen (although the moment for this will probably come quite soon).
    One point worth making in the meantime is that although Lord Carlile is perfectly entitled to suggest that Nick Clegg and Tim Farron may have been misled when they made statements at an earlier stage of proceedings, Lord Carlile, as he would himself no doubt himself admit, is not exactly an impartial bystander in this matter, since he has been – and presumably still is – providing legal advice to Lord Rennard.

  • @tony greaves

    You say the women’s claims were “found wanting.” My understanding is that they did not reach a criminal standard of proof which is a very different thing. Consequently your comment may be offensive to the women involved, though I assume you don’t intend this.

    Like many women, I have experienced relatively minor but still upsetting sexual assaults which I didn’t report because I knew that I could not prove any evidence that would meet the criminal standard of proof; it would be a question of my word against someone else’s. But this doesn’t mean that my statement of what happened would be “found wanting” – merely that it did not meet the standard of evidence which is rightly required in a criminal court of law.

    I would also note that the standard of evidence discussed in the enquiry was that required by a criminal prosecution (beyond a reasonable doubt) rather than the lower standard required for a civil case for damages (on the balance of probabilities). And I think some of the comments made about the women who complained about Lord Rennard’s conduct have been objectionable and illiberal. They have been found guilty of nothing.

  • Tony Greaves 31st May '14 - 6:04pm

    Caron – your additional requirements are nonsense. What is happening in this case is that Lord Rennard was found not to have a case to answer. The bar was then raised and a new test/investigation started. And now this is happening again. How can a Liberal party behave like this?

    The request for an apology was not included in the Webster Report (as I understand it – obviously I have not read it any more than anyone else here so rely on the account of some of the very few who have seen it ). It was included in the covering one page statement (aka press release) issued by Alistair Webster. He says that this was written by him. It is widely believed that he did so at the request of the party leadership.

    My understanding is that the barrier to publishing the report (other than possible embarrassment to the powers that be) is that the people who gave evidence (notably the four women) were given promises of anonymity. I have no idea how many persons are named in the report, or otherwise identifiable, but obviously it could be redacted to remove names and identifying details.

    However it does seem that the consent of the four women is required to publication and this has not been given.

    Due process has taken place. The stench over this whole affair is the sense that people in high places are not prepared to accept any conclusion that does not result in Lord Rennard being expelled. Every time they get an answer that they do not like they find a reason to start up another process. What is happening is thoroughly illiberal and disgraceful.

    As for the three women (I hear that the fourth has now withdrawn from the process) the question at some stage has to be asked, as they drag it on and on towards the forthcoming General Election – just who is now bringing the party into disrepute? Meanwhile the personal treatment of Lord Rennard, and the effects on his health, would be worthy of an East European regime in the Soviet era.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 31st May '14 - 6:10pm

    Kath – I don’t know whether or not you are a Liberal Democrat. But the point is that the party had a process under which the complaints were lodged. They were dealt with under that process. A conclusion was reached which amounted to acquittal. What you cannot do in a Liberal society or system is change the rules after the event if you don’t like the answer you get. (If you think the process has been found wanting you can press for changes, but if agreed they would be for future cases, not to reopen ones that have been concluded.)

    In any case, I understand that Alistair Webster told Lord Rennard or his representative that his finding would have been the same under a “balance of probabilities” test.

    Tony Greaves

  • @Tony Greaves – I am a liberal and a democrat but not a party member (nor a supporter since the party doesn’t currently seem to support the standards for which it once stood).

    I appreciate that there are varied standards of proof and all I have seen of the report talks of the criminal standard of proof.

    However there is plainly a difference between what can be proved and what may or may not be true. My point was that your form of words, that the women’s claims were “found wanting” seems to imply that they are lying or deluded. That too has not been proved and would be unlikely, I suspect, to be proved either to the criminal or civil standard of proof. I thought you might, given your liberal principles, wish to amend this unfortunate form of words.

    The whole situation is distressing and it seems clear that, whatever happens, some people who care about the party will in the end be unable to continue as members.

    I don’t personally know any of the people involved. I can see that they are all human beings and that they have suffered in a number of ways. Most people act better in some circumstances than in others and it’s foolish to expect perfect behaviour from anyone. I have no idea how anyone can resolve the situation but I do hope it will at least lead to more understanding and care for individuals in the future and better procedures.

  • “In any case, I understand that Alistair Webster told Lord Rennard or his representative that his finding would have been the same under a “balance of probabilities” test.”

    This comment from Tony Greaves is more or less the crux of the issue in my view. I have heard the same statement made by various people and I have heard other people contradicting it. Is there anyone who actually knows the answer and is prepared to state for the record if this is true or false? Did Webster make a finding as to whether the allegations would pass the “balance of probabilities” test or not? Or did he make an off-the-record statement to Rennard but omit it from his official statement because it was only the “reasonable doubt” test that he was asked to rule on?

    There are 3 thresholds of proof to be considered here:
    1) credibility, which dictates whether there is a case to answer but doesn’t prove that case one way or another
    2) balance of probabilities, in which allegations are proven to a civil standard
    3) beyond reasonable doubt, in which allegations are proven to a criminal standard

    Webster was clear that these allegations passed test 1) and failed test 3). Whether they would pass or fail test 2) is a crucial question and I have yet to hear a definitive answer. Webster said the complainants’ accounts were credible, but passing test 1) is not the same thing as passing test 2). Webster also gave credence to the testimony of other witnesses to some of the incidents whose recollections of events was at odds with the complainants’ recollections.

  • Peter Watson 1st Jun '14 - 12:34am

    It is reported (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-27648291) that “the apology was seen “weeks ago” by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. But party lawyers held back on issuing it, at Lord Rennard’s request, until after the European and local elections.”

  • peter tyzack 1st Jun '14 - 11:59am

    … crucially though, did CR bring the party into disrepute, by any of his actions or inactions (inadvertent or not).?

  • John Tilley sorry for delay in responding. I too am on ‘the naughty step’ and after some of my comments on other threads had been deleted without anyone telling me why, I had lost the will to engage on here any more. Here’s one last shot.

    I think this whole issue is a nightmare. I think to get a handle on what’s going on now, we have to look at what went on previously when Alison and the others made complaints (sorry I don’t like to refer to them as ‘the ladies’ it seems a very impersonal and a bit ‘patronising, that’s prob just me) and they were not persued but eventually Danny had a chat with Chris and Chris left. Clearly Nick, Tim and others felt they had let the complainants down badly at that time – indeed they have said so – and they do believe them. That is why now Nick cannot be seen to have let the complainants down a second time. The implicit message would be that the Lib Dem Party is not a safe place for young women. Indeed that’s what people are already saying.

    The difficulty comes when we consider that processes and procedures have been followed, as Tony et al say) and these do not conclude that Chris should be expelled from the Party. However the processes and procedures have been found wanting and do not follow ‘best practice’ in the workplace. But then it’s not a typical workplace.

    The whole thing makes my head spin but all I can come back to is that no-one has given any reason why so many committed Lib Dems (12 in total but how many others keeping quiet?) should make these accusations unless they were true. What do they have to gain except pain, vilification and intrusion? I understand they only went public as a last resort when Chris started becoming involved again with volunteers when they had been assured that that would not happen. These are people who have devoted their lives to the Party.

  • Phyllis

    Shirley Williams on the radio amd Lynne Featherstone on the TV this morning, both of whom know some of the players in this tragedy better than I could claim to are calling for there to be an end to this.
    David Steel back in February called on Nick Clegg to get a rip on this or it woud just drag on. David Steel was so right.

    I know how badly Jenny Tonge has been treated by the Clegg office and I do not want to see anyone else subject to the sort of lynch mob mentality that she was subject to.

    We have seen one Liberal Democrat peer disintegrate this week.
    Do we have so many Liberal Democrats in parliaments that we can afford to throw away eleven one week, a peer the next and then call for another to go??

    As to motivation of participants — a key question that you ask — I am not convinced by the motivation of anyone who resigns from the party in a blaze of media headlines, takes every opportunity to attack, embarrass and undermine the party and then demands that members of the paty be sympathetic because thy hve “been through hell”.

    if I were to suggest that anyone was being self-indulgent aor exaggerating the impact on their lives I would no doubt be subject to a firestorm of abuse but I would be impressed if some of these people got a bit more outraged by the real world atrocities that hit our TV screens every night. Where we’re they when bombing Syria was being discussed or FGM ?

    A bit of outrage about the bedroom tax would not go amiss.

    A bit of outrage about forcing people into destitution by penalising the poor whose only crime is to depend on benefits would be more justifiable than middle class people who have benefited from highly paid special advisor posts crying wolf.

    To draw a comparison I would suggest that Anna Lo might be more justified to use the term “been through hell”.

    If as much money, resource and energy was devoted to supporting Anna Lo as has been wasted on repeated enquiries etc on this issue it might achieve something.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Jun '14 - 5:31pm

    John – the women involved put up and shut up for years and years. They only got went to the media in desperation when they believed there was a possibility of other women experiencing the same treatment they had experienced.

    I find it extraordinary that Shirley Williams referred to this being part of Rennard’s “private life”.

  • @Catherine
    The only way to see if the allegations meet any threshold would be for a full hearing where CR could challenge their veracity directly. Until such a hearing, and the unpleasantness that such things always entail for one or even both parties, all that could be judged by anyone is whether the evidence unchallenged would meet such a threshold.

  • Ruth Bright
    Ruth
    Simon Titley has previously commented on this subject about how people in the party with a working class background (men and women) have had to put and shut up all their political lives.
    This is something which I actually feel very strongly about.
    Equality is equality.
    The cry of white middle class women in the Westminster Bubble that they have “been through hell” has to be kept in context. If someone has been happy to accept a very high salary as special advisor but then goes on to trash the party, that person cannot expect too much sympathy from me.

    Let’s talk about real examples of women who have “been through hell” — those who have been subjected to FGM as teenagers, or those with severe disabilities who are being thrown out of their specially adapted homes because of the iniquitous bedroom tax.

    I have said before that I am in neither camp in this dispute. I do not know the full facts. But from what has been made public it is clear to me that some people do not give a damn about the party, have left the party and yet continue to court the media to do the party as much damage as possible.
    The irony is that nobody is accusing those particular people of “bringing the party into disrepute”.

  • @Steve
    Yes, I tend to agree but then what in seven hells was the point of the Webster inquiry ???

    I am a feminist and if the complainants actually were groped and sexually harassed as described (as opposed to simply some clumsy sexual advances) then I wouldn’t hesitate to join calls for CR’s expulsion. But we are talking about disciplining or expelling someone based on allegations about which the most we can currently say is that it “might very well have happened but who really knows”. If even the Lib Dems, of all parties, can show so little regard for the spirit of justice then I really do give up on this country.

    As for why multiple complainants might make allegations that aren’t 100% accurate, let’s not forget that there have been several prominent trials recently in which multiple people made such allegations but the juries returned not guilty verdicts. Just because several people say similar things doesn’t automatically make those things true.

  • @Catherine
    “what in seven hells was the point of the Webster inquiry”

    I would guess to decide whether the claims, if upheld by an enquiry, would be likely to meet the required standard of proof. In other words the role that the CPS carry out in the criminal sphere..

    My concern is that having reached a conclusion that no action would be likely to meet the required standard, any action at all was required of CR. If we believe in open process and fair hearings then we must accept that where evidence is insufficient then we have a potential (without making any judgement on this case) for the “guilty” to go unpunished.

    It seems to me some want to re-run or change the process until they get the result they wanted.

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Jun '14 - 8:20pm

    John – I don’t see how one of the complainant’s amazingly dignified and restrained interviews on C4 could possibly be seen as a cheap courting of the media.

    If a black well-paid advisor complained publicly that he had been called the n-word (after having complained through the proper channels and been called a liar) surely everyone would understand. I apologise for repeating myself, but the class thing won’t wash. At least one of the women felt afraid and unsafe. Just because she is middle class does not negate her feelings of fear and loneliness at unwanted advances. Surely you can see the disparity of power here is about gender not class.

  • SIMON BANKS 4th Jun '14 - 8:45am

    We can argue on about this, which is useful only if it leads to learning. It isn’t helpful for you and me to make assumptions about what happened. What is clear is that Chris Rennard behaved in a way that left four women deeply offended and hurt. There is no point in speculating on his intentions or whether he knew he was offending them.

    As far as I can see, this resolution could have been reached far earlier. The cautious wording of the apology takes account of legal implications and months back I thought he could issue something like this without damning himself in any future court proceedings. Equally, he should have been shown the full report (with a few details redacted if necessary) right away. To ask him to apologise without seeing the full report was a breach of natural justice.

    The delay in passing the apology to the four women is a serious failing, but as far as I can see this was the Party’s rather than his fault.

    If this actually is the end of the Rennard/harassment saga, it must not be the end of the Party making sure harassment , discrimination and bullying are crushed.

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