Nick Clegg was warned personally four and a half years ago that a senior figure in the Liberal Democrats might be sexually molesting female volunteers and staff, a senior member of the party has claimed.

Lord Rennard and Nick Clegg

Lord Rennard (left) and Nick Clegg Photo: ANDREW CHANT/EDDIE MULHOLLAND

By , Holly Watt and Jon Swaine

10:00PM GMT 24 Feb 2013

The Deputy Prime Minister was forced to admit that “indirect and non-specific” concerns about Lord Rennard, the party’s chief executive at the time, had been reported to his office in 2008.

As the scandal threatened to escalate into the biggest crisis of his leadership, Mr Clegg said the situation had been dealt with by Danny Alexander, his former chief of staff.

After being confronted by Mr Alexander, who is now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Rennard denied accusations that he harassed female party members and no further action was taken, Mr Clegg said.

The party has insisted for days that the Lib Dem leader was first made aware of allegations surrounding the peer when it was approached by Channel Four News last week. In his statement, Mr Clegg would only admit that “my office” had received the complaints.

However, during an investigation by The Telegraph and ITV News, it emerged that a senior member of the party’s national committee had said he told Mr Clegg of the allegations personally in September 2008.

The official, who asked not to be named, said in an interview: “I was at an event with Nick Clegg and said, ‘Nick, you need to know that we have print journalists, which I believe were, I think the Telegraph were chasing it, the Mail was chasing it and the News of the World was chasing it.’

“I said, ‘I believe there are three papers that are actively pursuing the Rennard story’ and he knew exactly what I meant, there was no ‘what are you talking about?’

“As the party leader he knew exactly what I meant when I said it to him. He said, ‘Thank you very much, I will go and deal with it.’ And again nothing happened.”

The interview was conducted in 2009, and the source confirmed that he stood by the remarks when contacted on Sunday.

The claim that Mr Clegg was warned in person and his statement, in which he angrily denied that a cover-up had taken place, are likely to raise further questions over his handling of the scandal. Lord Rennard, who denies the accusations, retired as chief executive in 2009, citing ill health, and the party will face accusations that he was asked to step down to avoid embarrassment.

Mr Alexander is also likely to be asked why he appeared to take Lord Rennard’s denials at face value without conducting a full investigation into the women’s claims.

Mr Clegg’s predecessors as party leader, Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell, could also be asked whether any concerns about Lord Rennard had been raised with them.

So far two party workers, Alison Smith and Bridget Harris, a former special adviser to Mr Clegg, as well as several other women, who have not been named, have claimed they were the victims of Lord Rennard’s behavior

 

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