UK police to review sex scandal claims at coalition party

Mon Feb 25, 2013 6:13pm EST
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By Tim Castle

LONDON (Reuters) - British police said they would review accusations of sexual misconduct made against a former official of the coalition's Liberal Democrats, intensifying a scandal that threatens to overwhelm the party ahead of a by-election.

Detectives from London's police force will consider whether "criminal activity" took place relating to the allegations of sexual impropriety made against the party's former chief executive Chris Rennard, the Metropolitan Police Service said.

Rennard, a member of parliament's upper house, denies the allegations, but has stood down from party duties while they are investigated.

The furor comes at a difficult moment for the party following the resignation of a former cabinet minister Chris Huhne this month after he admitted asking his then wife to accept a penalty for a speeding offence he had committed.

A local election to replace Huhne takes place this Thursday, with the Liberal Democrats, below 10 percent in national opinion polls, fighting a close battle with their Conservative coalition partners for the seat.

The Liberal Democrats' stumbling response to the reports that Rennard inappropriately touched female party members and activists several years ago has put it on the back foot since they emerged in a television news report last week.

Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron, in an apparent criticism of party leader Nick Clegg, said the party had "screwed this up".

Conservative-supporting newspapers have leapt on the crisis, putting Clegg, who serves as deputy prime minister, on the spot after he appeared to change his position on when and how much he knew about the allegations.   Continued...

Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg speaks on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, in this photograph provided by the BBC, in London January 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout