Nick Clegg calling for speed in Lib Dem peer probe

Nick Clegg: on the offensive. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Nick Clegg: on the offensive. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he wanted the investigation into claims a Liberal Democrat peer sexually harassed activists “done as quickly as possible” amid suggestions five women have made complaints to Scotland Yard.

Metropolitan Police said they were “not prepared to discuss” claims that officers are poised to interview a number of women, who are said to have called a dedicated hotline, in the next few days.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg inspects the interior of an Aston Martin Vanquish during the BIS Manufacturing Summit at The Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, Warwrickshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 28, 2013. See PA story POLITICS Clegg. Photo credit should read: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg inspects the interior of an Aston Martin Vanquish during the BIS Manufacturing Summit at The Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, Warwrickshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 28, 2013. See PA story POLITICS Clegg. Photo credit should read: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

It comes after Alison Smith, a former Aberdeen councillor and Lib Dem activist who is now a lecturer at Oxford University, said she planned to talk to police about claims that Lord Rennard behaved inappropriately towards her. She claims an alleged incident in 2007 was “more serious” than having a hand placed on her knee.

Mr Clegg’s handling of the affair has been repeatedly called into question. An initial response from the party suggested that he was not aware of the allegations but the party leader later admitted he had known of general concerns.

During a visit to the Aston Martin car factory in Warwickshire yesterday, he told reporters that he wanted the investigations into Lord Rennard’s alleged behaviour carried out “as quickly as possible”.

“The key thing, not least for the women involved, is that the investigations get their work done as quickly as possible,” he said.

“The important thing is that the two investigations I announced last week are allowed to get on with their work, and that the police investigation is allowed to get on with its work.

“It’s crucial we get to the bottom of the truth and do that as soon as possible.”

“That’s why the investigations should proceed as quickly as possible.”

Lord Rennard, who stepped down as chief executive on health grounds, has said he is ready to “co-operate with any properly-constituted inquiry” into allegations of inappropriate behaviour. The peer has issued a series of strenuous denials of any wrongdoing.

Scotland Yard has met senior Lib Dems to investigate whether any criminal activity has taken place and the party has launched two internal inquiries.

Ms Smith said she decided to “blow the whistle” about the peer’s alleged behaviour because he had started to become involved again in training events.

“We were told he was not going to make a comeback, now here he is, turning up all over the place,” she added.

“I will be talking to the police and I think the trial by media, probably it is time for that to finish,” she said.

Mr Clegg’s handling of the affair has been criticised. He conceded on Wednesday that his party made “very serious mistakes” in failing to deal properly with complaints made about the peer.

Pressed on whether the issue played any part in Lord Rennard’s departure as chief executive in 2009, the Deputy Prime Minister said: “Like any new leader of any organisation or political party, I wanted to make sure that the organisation reflected my priorities, my values.

“I felt it was time for a change at the top of the professional party. His health was poor and that was the immediate reason he left but of course these things were in the background.”

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