March 12 2014 Latest news:
Annabelle Dickson, Political Editor
Thursday, January 23, 2014
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has said he fears for the mental health of his colleague Lord Rennard saying he did not want anything “awful” to happen as a result of the sexual harassment allegations which have engulfed the Liberal Democrat peer.
The care minister, who is responsible for mental health, has previously told how a woman contacted him to allege that the former Lib Dem chief executive had behaved inappropriately.
He called for the two parties to conciliate after Lord Rennard was expelled from the party for refusing to apologise for sexual harassment claims, joining allies of Lord Rennard who have appealed to the party leadership to avoid a bruising court battle and to enter mediation.
Friends of Lord Rennard, the former Lib Dem chief executive and elections supremo, said he wanted to avoid legal action but that his suspension from the party would have to be lifted first.
Earlier, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg insisted he would not back down over his demand that the peer must apologise to the four women activists who lodged complaints against him.
The Rennard camp said the peer - who strongly denies the allegations against him - had repeatedly offered to enter mediation in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
However they said that Lord Rennard’s legal representative, Lord Carlile QC, was informed last October, in a letter from the independent investigator Alistair Webster QC, that mediation could not take place because the complainants were not interested.
Lord Rennard has now instructed a senior QC to advise him on the lawfulness of a decision to launch a second investigation following claims his refusal to apologise is bringing the party into disrepute.
Mr Lamb said: “At a very human level it is very important to find a way of conciliating between the two parties. I fear for his mental health. I don’t want anything awful to happen as a result of this.”
The Norfolk MP said he had not spoken in person to Lord Rennard, but said: “As an ex-lawyer I believe in proper process. I have heard the allegations, but I have also heard the defence. I heard what he said in his statement. Nobody can second guess what actually happened.”
“I think we should explore conciliation to get through the time and try and find a way forward that both sides are comfortable with.”
He added: “From my office I cannot judge whether he is guilty or not guilty. It is incredibly important for everyone who is asked for a comment to emphasise the total importance of proper process. Theses allegations are very serious. When someone is in a position of power, that power must not be abused, full stop. But it is very important in this country, where we believe in the rule of law, that people are innocent until proven guilty. This is a totally critical element of our justice system and any of us, you me, any EDP reader can see allegations and everyone is entitled to proper process rather than trial by media. We have to be incredibly careful. These are very serious allegations and every individual has a right to proper process in defending those allegations.”