Nick Clegg: I was only aware of "indirect and non-specific concerns" about Lord Rennard

The Deputy Prime Minister reveals his involvement in the Rennard investigation.

Nick Clegg has admitted that he was aware of general concerns about behaviour of the party's former chief executive Lord Rennard, but has denied that he knew of specific allegations of sexual harassment.

"When indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct reached my office in 2008, we acted to deal with them," said Clegg. But he did not know of the specific allegations until "until Channel 4 informed the party of them" when it broke the news last Thursday.

Clegg also attacked attempts to use the scandal to slight the party over all, saying "I will not stand by and allow my party to be subject to a show trial of innuendo, half-truths and slurs".

Clegg's statement follows that of his deputy, Vince Cable. Cable said he "absolutely" did not know of what he described as "serious" allegations. Jo Swinson MP says she "took action" after several party members shared concerns, but hasn't clarified what that action was.

Lord Renard himself has released a statement saying that he is "deeply shocked", and "strongly disputes" the claims made against him.

The full statement reads as follows:

The allegations made on Channel 4 concerning Lord Rennard last Thursday were extremely serious and distressing to the women involved. It is critical they are investigated thoroughly and dealt with properly and they will be.

But I would like to make one thing crystal clear. I did not know about these allegations until Channel 4 informed the party of them shortly before they were broadcast. I have today spoken to one of the women in the broadcast who I respect and admire and who confirmed that she had never raised the issue with me.

I am angry and outraged at the suggestion that I would not have acted if these allegations had been put to me. Indeed, when indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct reached my office in 2008, we acted to deal with them.

My Chief of Staff at the time, Danny Alexander, put these concerns to Chris Rennard and warned him that any such behaviour was wholly unacceptable. Chris Rennard categorically denied that he had behaved inappropriately and he continues to do so. He subsequently resigned as Chief Executive on health grounds.

As my office only received concerns indirectly and anonymously, as those involved understandably wanted to maintain their privacy, there was a limit to how we could take this matter forward following Chris Rennard’s resignation. It is incorrect to state that there was any other separate inquiry by my office or anybody in it.

I recognise from the Channel 4 broadcast that there are legitimate concerns that issues raised with the party were not handled as well as they should have been. In particular the suggestion that a complaint was made but was not dealt with as a formal complaint. I am therefore determined that we carry out a thorough investigation into our procedures and how we applied them at the time to ensure we have a full and clear picture of what happened and the lessons that we need to learn. This review will be independently chaired.

A separate investigation into the specific allegations about Lord Rennard will take place under our disciplinary procedure. It is essential that this is carried out with due process and for that reason I cannot provide a running commentary on it. But I am absolutely determined that both these investigations will be carried out thoroughly and comprehensively. These investigations may well reveal flawed procedures, and clearly the women concerned feel they were not properly listened to. But I totally reject the insidious suggestion that my office or I are responsible in any way for a deliberate cover up.

The full truth of what happened and what failed to happen and who said what to whom will be revealed by these investigations.

But in the meantime, I will not stand by and allow my party to be subject to a show trial of innuendo, half-truths and slurs. The important thing is that we respect the women who have come forward and do everything to get to the truth. That is what will now happen.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.