Lord Rennard: Lib Dems continue investigation into peer while party official apologises for lapse

Chris RennardThe Guardian reports today on the latest developments in the Lord Rennard case, specifically:

  • A senior Lib Dem official has personally apologised to Lord Rennard “over the fact the party told the media an appeal against his suspension had been rejected before the peer himself was informed of the ruling.” (See LDV’s brief report, ‘Lord Rennard remains suspended’ (15th July).)
  • The party has abandoned its investigation into Lord Rennard for not apologising to the four women, who maintain he touched them inappropriately, as recommended by Alistair Webster QC’s inquiry, which concluded in January. It was his initial refusal to do so which led to his suspension for potentially bringing the party into disrepute. Lord Rennard subsequently issued a written apology “for any harm or embarrassment caused to them or anything which made them feel uncomfortable”.
  • The party is, however, continuing to investigate Lord Rennard through the English regional parties committee on the basis of “Media and social media comments made by you, endorsed by you and made on your behalf that have attacked the party and the party processes publicly since the announcement of the Webster report results”.
  • The paper reports comments from Lord Rennard’s spokesman:

    A spokesman for Rennard said the peer considered disciplinary action on the basis of “public criticism of party processes” to be a threat to the party’s core principles, including free speech. He added that every party leader Rennard has worked with over several decades has been critical of party processes and pointed out the peer has given no media interviews in the past 17 months.

    On Friday The Guardian printed a letter from ‘Rock the Boat’, a group of party members campaigning against sexual harrasment, warning:

    Senior party members continue to underestimate the damage to that perception of the Rennard scandal itself, the party’s reluctance to tackle it in a timely manner, and ongoing refusal to understand that abuse of power for self-gratification is wrong. It is particularly wrong for an organisation that campaigns against sexual harassment and the abuse of power.

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    30 Comments

    • The party is, however, continuing to investigate Lord Rennard through the English regional parties committee on the basis of “Media and social media comments made by you, endorsed by you and made on your behalf that have attacked the party and the party processes publicly since the announcement of the Webster report

      Sounds just like a paragraph from a Stalinist court judgement.

    • Eddie Sammon 26th Jul '14 - 9:22am

      Lowering the burden of proof is what I support. It’s only party membership, so no great injustice as long as people make clear some doubt remains.

    • Another example of how, once the party leadership chooses to get involved in things, events gain a momentum in ridiculous directions. We are now in a situation where the party has “apologised to Lord Rennard “over the fact the party told the media an appeal against his suspension had been rejected before the peer himself was informed of the ruling,” and it has “abandoned its investigation into Lord Rennard for not apologising.”

      So all that is left is an accusation to Lord Rennard that “Media and social media comments made by you, endorsed by you and made on your behalf that have attacked the party and the party processes publicly.” i.e. the very party processes that told the media first and that held the abortive investigation. How Catch 22 – a person is accused in public, and defends himself in public. That defence is then considered to merit further charges. The one thing that isn’t known is which individual in the party hierarchy promoted the idea that Lord Rennard should be investigated over his comments. He, she or they have a lot to answer for and should do so.

      None of the above should be taken as any sort of comment on the original matters which led to Lord Rennard being investigated in the first place.

    • This is a farce, Chris Rennard has not been found guilty of anything; the reason the investigation is taking so long is because the leadership want him found guilty, but they can’t because evidence is not there. So they keep him under under suspension to appease those in the party making the allegations. In short, its a witch hunt.

    • This has been a real disaster in terms of part management hasn’t it?

      Even if we overlook the actual charges against the person involved, this could be an example of ‘how not to handle a sensitive and serious allegation’

      I fail to see now how he cannot be reinstated as the most serious of the charges against him has now been dropped, and we are left with this rather sad ‘Media and social media comments made by you, endorsed by you and made on your behalf that have attacked the party and the party processes publicly since the announcement of the Webster report results’ charge

      If there is a case to answer for criticising the party processes then, firstly, this is a bizarre way for a supposedly ‘liberal’ party to manage itself and, secondly, most of the members on here could be charged under the same rule!!

    • What a mess. The investigation of the complaints themselves is over, the investigation of his failure to apologise – the pretext for his suspension – has been abandoned, and now the only thing left is an investigation of his “attacks” on the party and its processes.

      I am no fan at all of Lord Rennard, but really you should either take action against him on the substantive issues or not take action at all. At the moment, it seems he is being investigated purely for complaining publicly that he has been unjustly treated. That won’t wash.

    • David Evershed 26th Jul '14 - 12:26pm

      Either expelling or not expelling Lord Rennard from the party is going to upset some (different) part of the membership.

      Further prevarication will be even more harmful than coming to a decision either way.

      There is no more evidence to be obtained. It’s time to bite the bullet; make a decision; and take the flak.

    • While recognising that the Party has to protect itself against Legal Action this all looks terrible.The resignation of some of the members involved now seems much easier to understand.
      Heads should roll for this mess, quietly, behind the scenes. For now the important thing is to get on with expelling Rennard, it should be straightforward enough given the threats he & his “Team” made. This is now Urgent, before any more good people resign.

    • Andrew Suffield 26th Jul '14 - 5:06pm

      Lowering the burden of proof is what I support. It’s only party membership, so no great injustice as long as people make clear some doubt remains.

      While there may be some merit to this proposal, the reason why the barriers are set so high is to constrain the power of party authorities out of fear that this power might be abused. Given the efforts which some have expended on encouraging fear and distrust of party authorities over the past few years, I find it hard to see how we would bring together enough trust to introduce a rule to give them more power to deal with situations like this.

      If you would prefer a pithy statement of the problem: “People who are opposed to judges cannot have justice”.

    • Eddie Sammon 26th Jul '14 - 7:45pm

      Hi Andrew, I understand, I just think the current system protects the defendants more than the accusers.

      The current system protects the committee too much too. The rules are so stringent it is as though they can hide behind them and away from the public. I would prefer a more well-known committee.

      However, I don’t like this kangaroo court style “find a loop-hole to expel him”. I don’t see why it is so hard to have a proper process. It might take a bit longer, but it’s better than panicking over it.

      I’ll repeat that I don’t know a lot about the case, so people shouldn’t treat my words as someone “in the know”.

    • Andrew Suffield – Lowering the burden of proof is a silly idea – guaranteed to punish the innocent and reward those making false sexual allegations.

    • Since when has it been a disciplinary offence to attack party processes? The ghost of Matthew Hopkins lurks.

    • The burden of proof cannot be lowered, it can only be reversed. The standard of proof can be lowered.

    • Does anyone have a contact for the English Regional Parties Committee?. They need to look at social media themselves and they will find loads of examples of people attacking the party and its processes over this issue alone. Those comments come from those who support Chris Rennard and those who who support the complainants and from those who have no stated position but have strong views on the process. And that is before you start to look at a whole host of other issues where individual party members have criticised the party. All these incidents need to be investigated by the English Regional Parties Committee on the same basis (and they will be very busy)…….otherwise this looks like a vendetta against one person. I freely admit that on this basis I should be investigated as well!

    • Eddie Sammon 26th Jul '14 - 10:03pm

      Andi, but your system is based on the assumption of lying. We shouldn’t have the assumption of guilt or the assumption of lying, we need something better.

    • Eddie Sammon 26th Jul '14 - 10:56pm

      I’ve looked at a matrix on burden’s or proof:

      http://www.findlaw.co.uk/law/dispute_resolution/litigation/trial/500248.html

      If Lib Dems maintain criminal standard of proof for internal party discipline, rather than civil, then it would be an outrage.

    • ErnstRemarx 27th Jul '14 - 8:47am

      After the ongoing farce with Hancock, this simply doesn’t look good. It looks as though the leadership will do anything to kick the ball into the long grass, and it’s surprising that commenters have expressed so much sympathy with Reynard, in my view. Are you really saying that the women involved all lied, and all lied about the same man, and the same conduct? As I say, after Mike Hancock, it begins to look as though you – as a party – have a problem with women, and a bigger one with process.

    • Jennie and ErnstRemarx

      I appreciate your comments but this thread is not about the original charge

      The fact that Rennard is still around is all down to the party hierarchy and the party’s own internal management. I think it is a bit unfair to knock the commentators on this thread as, for me, I was commenting on the fact that the only remaining charge on Rennard is based on criticising the party and I find that a rather pathetic situation.

      The decisions on Rennard and what he did were not made by people on this thread but were made by the party itself and your ire should be directed at them. If the culture of the party is also misogynistic then that speaks volumes itself, and I would hope to women within the party shouting that loud and clear, and if there is no improvement then they should leave the party and have nothing else to do with it

      I see though, Jennie, that you absolve the party from all blame in your last paragraph – blaming ‘society’ – isn’t that just reinforcing the problems? The LD does not seem to have a good track record on female representation and the behaviour of certain senior members towards women. Not impressed

    • @ErnstRemarx :

      “it begins to look as though you – as a party – have a problem with women, and a bigger one with process.”

      I can assure you that the vast majority of Party members have problems with neither. Some closer to the tip of the pyramid, sadly, appear to have problems with one, the other or both.

    • peter tyzack 27th Jul '14 - 12:26pm

      people join a party for sometimes different reasons, but membership is a personal decision to join. So it is right that a sanction exists to expel someone, who regardless of their own beliefs or their past work for the party, has done harm to the standing of the party in the public eye. If those investigating don’t feel they have the evidence to expel there is more than enough reason to do the other, ie to bar him from ever holding any position in the party at any level, and barred from being a speaker at any LD event.

    • The substantive issue has been debated at length here and elsewhere. I suspect most have a settled opinion on that, one way or another. It is depressing that those responsible for disciplinary processes continue the approach taken from the first complaint onwards; choosing the wrong turn at every opportunity.

      It seems now at this stage that the English Regional Parties Ctte has decided that criticising the disciplinary process is itself an offence. During this long drawn out saga those who made the complaints also criticised the process including, I think, floating the idea of legal action. Had they chosen to stay within the party, would the RPC now be threatening them with suspension? I would hope not. But it wouldn’t surprise anyone who’d been following the story so far.

    • SIMON BANKS 27th Jul '14 - 4:13pm

      It does look as if there was a problem and leading people chose to look the other way. We should be learning from that. We had a full and independent report on how the party handled harassment and allied issues, and we should be discussing what progress has been made. But concerning Lord Rennard, I would hope that any Liberal would be concerned that a party member is suspended and is being investigated for publicly criticising the party and its processes. How can that possibly be a disciplinary matter in a Liberal party for someone no longer employed by it? Is it unacceptable that someone facing disciplinary action has criticised the processes involved? On the issues of fair process and of whether a party member can publicly criticise the party, I can’t see gender should be relevant.

    • eduardo goncalves 27th Jul '14 - 4:36pm

      What an utter and absolute farce.

      By the way, I think these 6 words constitute: “Media and social media comments made by you, endorsed by you and made on your behalf that have attacked the party and the party processes publicly…”.

      Will I now be investigated/suspended?

    • Tony Dawson 27th Jul '14 - 9:28pm

      @eduardo goncalves :

      “What an utter and absolute farce.

      Will I now be investigated/suspended?”

      Smacks of “I’m Renardicus!” 🙁 Which, btw (for those who are a bit ‘slow’) is making fun of the procedural inadequacies of the Party, and the impossibility of getting those in office to recognise this problem – and in no way diminishes the underlying issue. The point is that those who have wound themselves (and us too! 🙁 ) up in procedural knots are the ones who thereby distract from the serious underlying issue.

    • “I see though, Jennie, that you absolve the party from all blame in your last paragraph – blaming ‘society’ – isn’t that just reinforcing the problems? The LD does not seem to have a good track record on female representation and the behaviour of certain senior members towards women. Not impressed”

      Not absolving the party of blame, just saying that it is reflecting a wider problem. Of course a liberal party should be leading the way in sorting this sort of attitude out, and the fact that we aren’t is profoundly depressing, and I do thoroughly blame the party heirarchy for that. But they are not the origin of the problem.

    • John Ramsbottom 29th Jul '14 - 4:41pm

      The only people bringing the party into disrepute at the moment are those that are continuing to attack Lord Rennard. There was an enquiry which is said to have asked for an apology, that apology was (belatedly) given That should have been the end of it. Continuing to find other reasons to have a go is appalling and illiberal. It is as if someone on high has decided the result they want and are not going to stop until they get it.

    • Matthew Huntbach 31st Jul '14 - 12:13pm

      peter tyzack

      So it is right that a sanction exists to expel someone, who regardless of their own beliefs or their past work for the party, has done harm to the standing of the party in the public eye.

      But what is meant by “harm”? Some would say anyone who criticises the leadership of the party is doing harm to the standing of the party in the public eye. Or anyone who doesn’t just follow The Party Line as set down by The Leader. What you are saying, Peter, is that party democracy should be over, and we should be run on Leninist lines.

    • Matthew Huntbach 31st Jul '14 - 12:20pm

      John Ramsbottom

      The only people bringing the party into disrepute at the moment are those that are continuing to attack Lord Rennard.

      It does come down to one person’s word against another. Or one person’s perception of something that happened against another’s. If one holds to the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”, and as liberals we should, that may mean we have to leave it at that. Some seem to have both jumped to a conclusion about what was in Rennard’s mind when he did what the women in question said he did, and that this should mean instant expulsion. There are good liberal reason why we should NOT have a mechanism for instant expulsion of a member, things like this could be very easily misused.

    • Peter Rainford 3rd Aug '14 - 1:41pm

      Imagine you are faced with serious allegations which you absolutely deny
      There is no evidence to even warrant a file being sent to the CPS
      An independent investigation makes a finding (we don’t know what is is because the party broke its own rules and refused to accept it. Logically it must have cleared Lord Rennard)
      A second finding says there is insuffiicient evidence (either o the basis of the criminal or civil level of proof )to proceed
      A party Press statement (but not aparently the Webster reoport itself) demands an apology and the Leaderfoolishly makes it a make or break issue
      Lord Rennard has to assert his legal right to see the report. It takes 14 weeks for the party to release it to him
      On reading the independnet report he immediately issues a written apology for any distress caused however inadvertently by him. Not an action demanded by the Webster report but something it said “he may wish to consider…”
      The publication of the apology is delayed at Lord Rennard’s request until after the local and European elections in order to prevent further bad publicity for the party
      Throughout this whole process for 17 months Lord Rennard has refrained from giving any media interviews
      He has from the outset offered to take part in mediation
      He offered to co-ordiante press statements with the party whatever the outcome of Webster The party refuse
      Now he is being threatened with expulsion because of socialedia comments including those ny others
      Every accused person must have the right to defend themselves and question abuse of process. This is all Lord Rennard has done
      Any reasonable person would conclude that he has behaved with remarkable restraint in the circumstances
      Just how many members or MP’s would the Lib Dems have if sovcasil media criticism of the party or its processes alone were to be reason for expulsion
      Absolutlely illiberal to behave in this way Smacks of desperation
      When you are in a holer Mr Clegg it is time to stop digging!

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