UK's Clegg on defensive as sexual harassment claims batter party

Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:56pm EST
 
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LONDON (Reuters) - British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Sunday denied covering up allegations of sexual misconduct by a former senior member of his Liberal Democrat party, already floundering in opinion polls.

Allegations of sexual impropriety by former party chief executive Chris Rennard threaten to engulf Clegg and further undermine the Lib Dems, the junior member of Britain's coalition government.

The latest furor comes at a bad time for the party, after the resignation of cabinet minister Chris Huhne this month who admitted he had asked his then wife to accept a penalty for a 2003 speeding offence he had committed.

A local election to replace Huhne is to be held on February 28.

Rennard, the mastermind behind the party's election strategy before quitting in 2009, was accused in a report by Britain's Channel 4 television channel on Thursday of inappropriately touching female party members and activists several years ago.

The report has since triggered a flurry of similar allegations in the British media.

Lawyers for Rennard, a member of parliament's upper house, said after the Channel 4 report that he was "deeply shocked by and strongly disputes" the allegations made against him.

Media reports have since then accused Clegg of knowing of the allegations long ago but not investigating them.

"I am angry and outraged at the suggestion that I would not have acted if these allegations had been put to me," Clegg said late on Sunday, rejecting suggestions of a "cover up".   Continued...

 
Nick Clegg answers questions at an election campaign news conference at the party headquarters in central London April 20, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville