26 February 2013
Last updated at 14:25 ET
A woman who has accused former Lib Dem chief executive Lord Rennard of sexually inappropriate behaviour has told the BBC she knows of nine other women who have had similar experiences.
The former Lib Dem councillor, known only as Susan, said he had touched her leg and invited her back to his hotel room at a training conference.
She said he had “an almighty amount of power” over aspiring MPs and feared the incident had jeopardised her career.
Lord Rennard denies the allegations.
He issued a statement on Tuesday pledging to “co-operate with any properly constituted inquiry” and denying any impropriety.
The Lib Dems are now conducting two inquiries – one into the specific complaints against Lord Rennard, which will be chaired by Alistair Webster QC, a criminal lawyer and former head of the Lib Dem Lawyers Association, and the other – which will be independently chaired – into how the allegations were handled in the past.
Separately, the Metropolitan Police has said it is working with party officials to establish whether any criminal activity had taken place.
After meeting the officials on Tuesday, officers appealed to “anyone with information” to come forward.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4′s The World at One, Susan – who wants to keep her surname private to avoid media intrusion – said she accepted that party leader Nick Clegg had been put in a “very difficult position”.
But she added: “He didn’t know how to deal with it and then didn’t deal with it well.”
There was a “fundamental problem within the structure of our party”, she continued, describing it as “fairly widespread”, with incidents dating back as far as “either 2001 or 2002″.
“I have spoken to nine women who are involved in this, which is a fair number,” she said. Victims had been reluctant to make formal complaints “because we didn’t want any of this fuss”, she added.
The allegations had been a “great shock” to the Lib Dems, she said. “The last few days have been horrific as a party member, let alone someone who has fallen prey to this. It has rocked the party to the core. It’s been like telling the party faithful that Santa Claus isn’t real.”
Susan said she had wanted to become an MP for the Liberal Democrats, which she called “the party that I love”, and had attended a special training conference for prospective candidates at a hotel in Peterborough.
After dinner, Lord Rennard offered to escort her up the stairs to the bedrooms, and she attempted to get away by going to the toilet – but he waited outside and asked her to join him for a drink in his room when she came out, she said.
“I couldn’t believe that first of all I’d been propositioned in the way I had been, and I possibly could have knocked my chances of any future success in the party by having said ‘no’,” she said.
“Of course men do try it on, but this is a man with an almighty amount of power. At the time he held the purse-strings for any winnable seat, and he could choose which were the starred seats and advise other federal bodies which should be the starred seats.
“So this was a man who could control your future, and if he said, ‘I’m not too sure about this candidate’, people listened to him, and people still listen to him, because he has commanded a great deal of respect.”
Mr Clegg has said people needed to allow the police, and the two inquiries set up by the Lib Dems, to do their job, rather than “act as self-appointed detectives trying to piece together events”.
“In the meantime, I cannot and my party will not, provide a running commentary on every shred of speculation about events that happened many years ago.”
Lord Rennard has described the allegations as a “total distortion” of his character
Lord Rennard has disputed allegations that were first broadcast last week and have cast a long shadow over the party’s by-election campaign in Eastleigh.
The Lib Dems are preparing to defend the Hampshire seat on Thursday, following the resignation of Chris Huhne.
Alison Smith, one of those who has made allegations about Lord Rennard’s conduct, told the BBC’s Newsnight that there was an “intolerable” culture within the party.
“It is going beyond a pat on the knee a lot of the time and even if it was just a pat on the knee who gets to decide what’s an acceptable advance and what’s not an acceptable advance? The power dynamics in these situations are quite scary,” she said.
The party’s deputy leader Simon Hughes said the police announcement was “compatible with what we want to do which is to make sure that nobody thinks that we’re trying to hide anything.
“We’re not, we’re an open and transparent party.”
Lord Rennard, who was also a key strategist and adviser to a succession of party leaders, said he was “deeply shocked” about the allegations and said they were a “total distortion” of his character.
The peer said he knew of no complaints against him in his 27 years working for the party but he has temporarily stood aside from the Lib Dem group in the Lords to avoid “embarrassment” to the party.
A subsequent statement issued on his behalf added that he was not aware of “any personal complaints being made in the three and a half years since he stood down as chief executive until last week.
“He has been notified of an internal investigatory panel within the party,” the statement continued.
“The matter must now be regarded as sub judice pending its proceedings and no further statement will be issued in the interim. He expects others to respect the sub judice principle, and he notes that under the party rules concerned it is for any case made against him to be proved by evidence to the requisite standard.
“He denies impropriety.”