LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg and two senior Scottish MPs – Danny Alexander and Jo Swinson – failed women in the party by making mistakes in not formally investigating allegations of sexual harassment, an investigation has found.
The report was drawn up by businesswoman Helena Morrissey and investigated how allegations against former Lib Dem chief executive Lord Rennard were handled within the party.
Ms Morrissey said she was “shocked” at the gap between the ideology the party claims to champion on women, and the realities of how it behaves in practice. However, she said no further action should be taken.
She interviewed four of Lord Rennard’s alleged victims who had raised concerns with the party hierarchy. She also questioned Mr Clegg, Mr Alexander and Ms Swinson over the actions they took and said she believed they had “acted in good faith” but made mistakes.
The allegations were first raised with Ms Swinson, who passed them to Mr Alexander, who in turn spoke to Mr Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister.
Some of the alleged victims claimed they had asked for a formal investigation, but Ms Morrissey said she could find no evidence of this. One of the most prominent alleged victims was Alison Smith, a former Aberdeen city councillor.
Ms Morrissey said she was not “exonerating Nick Clegg”. She said she thought Ms Swinson, Mr Alexander and Mr Clegg believed they had acted as the women had wanted, and that the fact none of them wanted to be named made an inquiry difficult. But she said all three “failed” the women by not holding the formal investigation and “should have asked more questions”.
Responding to concerns about Mr Clegg’s role, Ms Morrissey said: “I think he did make a mistake by not asking for a formal investigation. But I understand why he was under the impression it was being dealt with the way the women wanted.”
Her report found: “There was “little evidence to suggest a conscious attempt to cover up problems.”
There has been a tendency for the party to try to ‘handle’ complaints rather than to fully and properly investigate them in a timely, professional manner,” the report added.
“Individuals appear to have been generally acting in good faith but without realising the importance of adhering to process or being aware of the processes in place. While this may appear a benign mistake, it has caused problems to fester unresolved.”
Mr Clegg said: “It makes sobering reading. It shows that, stretching over a 20-year period, a series of mistakes were made which left a number of women feeling
seriously let down, and for that there is absolutely no excuse.
“The report also shows that the individuals who dealt with their complaints had the right motives, but there weren’t the right processes in place to support the women who’d come forward.
“And as leader of the Liberal Democrats I take responsibility for that.
“Let me be clear: the Liberal Democrats must be a party where even a hint of sexism is taken seriously; where every allegation of harassment is dealt with properly; and where there can be no fear that power or position can be abused.”