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Rennard facing at least 10 claims of harassment

AT least 10 women, including a former Scots councillor, have claimed to have suffered sexual harassment at the hands of former Liberal Democrat chief executive and election guru Lord Rennard.

CLAIMS: Alison Smith defended Jo Swinson's role in the handling of the scandal.
CLAIMS: Alison Smith defended Jo Swinson's role in the handling of the scandal.

As the embattled party urged potential victims to contact police, another senior Coalition Government minister said he had known of the accusations against the peer.

The Scottish LibDems denied any women had approached them "recently or historically" with concerns.

One of the women at the centre of the storm, Alison Smith, is a former LibDem councillor in Aberdeen. Ms Smith, who went to school in Edinburgh and also used to work for the LibDem Gordon MP Malcolm Bruce, criticised Nick Clegg's handling of the scandal.

But she defended East Dunbartonshire MP and Womens' Minister Jo Swinson, who has faced questions over what she did after learning of complaints in England. Ms Smith also described the culture in politics in Scotland as "much better", saying she "never had any problems until I moved south".

On another fast moving day of events, former leaders Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown both denied knowledge of the allegations before they emerged last week. But health minister Norman Lamb said he had known, and that both he and Ms Swinson had taken action.

The LibDem leader in Wales, Kirsty Williams, revealed she had received an email from the federal party in 2008 asking if she had any "issues" with Lord Rennard. A spokesman said that no-one in the Scottish LibDems "received an email like that".

Mr Lamb's role was revealed by a woman, identified only as Susan, who came forward to speak of how "extremely distressed" she was after the peer allegedly touched her leg and invited her back to his hotel room. Lord Rennard held an "almighty amount of power" in the party and was a "man who could control your future", she said, adding that she knew of nine other women allegedly affected.

She also criticised the response of Mr Clegg, who appeared to go on the offensive, attacking what he said were "self appointed detectives" chasing information about the accusations.

Ms Smith, now a lecturer at Oxford University, also denounced the Deputy Prime Minister's intervention as "completely unacceptable".

But she defended Ms Swinson, saying she thought the minister would be "vindicated".

"I think Jo Swinson was in a very difficult position and I think when this inquiry is done it will probably show that she tried to raise the alarm and that was somehow blocked further up the pay scale," she added.

After a meeting with detectives from Scotland Yard yesterday the party issued a statement calling on those with concerns to contact the police. The move came just 24 hours after the party urged women to get in touch with an independent whistleblowing organisation.

Last night Lord Rennard said he would "co-operate with any properly-constituted inquiry" .

He issued a fresh strenuous denial of the allegations and highlighted party rules that set out the need for any case against him to be "proved by evidence to the requisite standard".

There was also confusion after Lord Rennard said that in 27 years of working for the Liberal Democrats "he received no complaint or allegation about his behaviour".

On Sunday, Mr Clegg said his office had heard rumours of inappropriate behaviour and Lord Rennard had been confronted by now Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

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