Lib Dem scandal: Lord Rennard speaks

Lord Rennard finally commented on the scandal hitting the Liberal Democrats today, in a statement which raised several logical and legal problems.

The former chief executive of the party is facing two internal investigations – one into allegations of harassment against him and another into how the party responded to them.

"Lord Rennard refutes these allegations. He will co-operate with any properly constituted inquiry," a spokesperson said.

"He has been notified of an internal investigatory panel within the party. The matter must now be regarded as sub-judice pending its proceedings and no further statement will be issued in the interim.

"He expects others to respect the sub-judice principle, and he notes that under the party rules concerned it is for any case made against him to be proved by evidence to the requisite standard. He denies impropriety."

The statement is problematic for a number of reasons. Most importantly, its use of sub-judice seems to be non-applicable.

Sub-judice is a legal phrase designed to restrict matters going before a court so reports do not affect a jury.

There have been no criminal proceedings against Rennard so the sub-judice rule does not apply. Furthermore, the inquiry into his behaviour is being chaired by  Alistair Webster QC, who is considered able under law to consider the cases before him without being influenced by media reports.

The statement also incorrectly asserts that Rennard has "refuted" the accusations against him. That is false. The peer has unable to disprove the allegations, although he has rejected them.

"He would reiterate that in 27 years of working for the Liberal Democrats he received no complaint or allegation about his behaviour," the statement continued.

"Nor is he aware of any personal complaints being made in the three and a half years since he stood down as chief executive until last week."

The statement came as the Lib Dems slipped behind Ukip in national polling.

Just days before the end of the Eastleigh by-election, Comres polling for the Independent put the party on just eight per cent, down two on last month, while Ukip is on nine per cent.

Labour is on 43% and the Conservatives on 31%.

The party's performance in Eastleigh itself does not appear to have been affected, however.

A survey for the Daily Echo put the Lib Dems neck-and-neck with the Tories on 22%, with Ukip in third place on 18% and Labour trailing on 12%.

A poll by Lord Ashcroft gave Clegg's party a five-point lead, with the Lib Dems on 33%, the Tories on 28%, Ukip on 21% and Labour on 12%.

The press is full of new allegations which portray the Lib Dem leadership as bumbling at best and misleading at worst.

The media coverage is becoming potentially lethal for Nick Clegg after he issued a confusing statement Sunday night saying he only knew of "indirect and non-specific concerns" before the Channel 4 documentary was shown last week.

Some reports suggest women were promised phone calls from the party leader, others that his aides were present when harassment allegedly took place.

There are even suggestions in the press – seemingly from Lib Dem briefings – that it was Clegg who forced Rennard out the party, although that would raise more questions than it answers about the deputy prime minister's decisions.

Deputy Lib Dem leader Simon Hughes lashed out at the press coverage yesterday, as signs emerged of increasing panic at the top of the party.

"There's a real danger that some people with a vested interest in some parts of the press are seeking to build this up all the time, to pretend other things are happening to make it into a story that just keeps going," Hughes said.

"We understand the score, there's politics here."

Channel 4's Cathy Newman vociferously rejected the suggestion the story had been timed to coincide with the Eastleigh by-election.

"In January, Alison Smith, one of the women I had spoken to back in 2010, approached me again saying she was ready to speak," she wrote on her blog.

"What had angered her was that Lord Rennard was still playing an active role.

"That was why Ms Smith and two other women, all current Lib Dem supporters, agreed to do interviews with me. So the decision to go ahead was taken in January, long before

Chris Huhne resigned, triggering the by-election in Eastleigh."

Voting takes place in Eastleigh on Thursday.