Mr Clegg initially insisted that he was unaware of the sex harassment
allegations. On Sunday evening, however, he admitted he was aware of general
“indirect and non-specific” allegations up to five years ago. Last night, an
opinion poll for The Independent, conducted by ComRes, found that the Lib
Dems had slumped to fourth behind Ukip before the key by-election in
Eastleigh later this week.

Amid signs of growing panic within the party, it also emerged that:

• Mr Clegg’s most senior aide was personally informed of specific allegations
against Lord Rennard, in emails sent by this newspaper in April 2010. Jonny
Oates, the leader’s chief of staff, was given details of five allegations of
harassment. The disclosure undermines a statement by Mr Clegg that his
office was only aware of “non specific” allegations until last week;

•  Senior women in the party disclosed that they had decided to make public
concerns over Lord Rennard after the peer returned to a senior position. He
had resigned in 2009 because of poor health as concerns mounted over his

•  The Lib Dems announced that a new whistle-blowing hotline would be run by
an independent organisation, amid complaints that a female peer originally
appointed to the role was the wife of one of Mr Clegg’s most senior

• Some Lib Dem supporters sought to dismiss the allegations as overblown.
Jasper Gerard, a friend and biographer of Mr Clegg, said on Radio 4: “It was
only touching a woman’s knee, it’s hardly Jimmy Savile.”

Lord Greaves, a Lib Dem peer, suggested that “people just calm down a bit”
adding that “fairly mild sexual advances” were “hardly an offence”.

This newspaper has established that Miss Jardine-Brown raised concerns about
Lord Rennard’s behaviour in September 2008, during an interview with senior
officials at the party.

Just under two months later, after informing her boss that she was pregnant,
she was told that her role was going as part of a “re-organisation”.

Sources familiar with the case say she was offered the chance to reapply for a
more junior role, which she rejected.

She filed a formal complaint against Lord Rennard and the party on grounds of
sex and disability discrimination. In November 2009 she reached a £50,000
settlement with the party, on condition that she did not discuss the case or
the terms.

Miss Jardine-Brown declined to speak to The Telegraph. A Lib Dem spokesman
said he was unable to discuss the case “for the same reason the person
involved can’t”.

He said: “I can however confirm this case had absolutely nothing to do with
the recent allegations involving Lord Rennard. It is completely untrue to
suggest otherwise.”

The disclosure will add to speculation that senior Lib Dems either attempted
to cover up allegations against Lord Rennard or turned a blind eye.

This newspaper contacted Mr Oates, now the Deputy Prime Minister’s chief of
staff, in April 2010 with five specific allegations involving Lord Rennard –
four of which are now in the public domain.

These included: “That at your September 2004 party conference in Bournemouth,
Lord Rennard intimately groped a woman Lib Dem PPC [prospective
parliamentary candidate], whose identity is known to us, while they posed
for a group photograph.”

It continued: “That prior to the 2005 general election, two women PPCs, whose
identities are known to us, were locked inside Lord Rennard’s home following
a dinner, and told to go upstairs, and released when one threatened to call
the police.”

A third allegation was that: “At a party held in December 2007 to celebrate Mr
Clegg’s leadership election victory, Lord Rennard again groped the PPC
referred to in incident 1.”

The email also stated that Jo Swinson, now an equalities minister, and Danny
Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had been involved in
investigations into Lord Rennard’s alleged conduct.

The party has now admitted that Ms Swinson and Mr Alexander were involved in
private conversations about the allegations as early as 2008. But Mr Oates
said in 2010 that Mr Clegg was unaware of the allegations.

In an email he told this newspaper: “It is untrue to state that Mr Clegg was
made aware of the incidents you allege. Given this fact it is obviously
untrue to state that Mr Clegg asked Jo Swinson or anyone else to carry out
an investigation into the incidents that you allege.”

The response suggests that Mr Oates must have asked Mr Clegg about the
allegations at that time – to establish whether he was previously aware of
them. But sources close to Mr Oates said that had not.

Mr Clegg on Monday flew to Amsterdam for talks with his Dutch counterparts
while several senior Lib Dems pulled out of campaigning visits to Eastleigh.

Mr Farron openly criticised the handling of the issue.

He said: “There are individuals out there who we had a duty of care towards
and we did not fulfil that duty of care. That is something that we have to
learn from, apologise for and make sure it never happens again.”

David Cameron’s official spokesman declined to comment on the Rennard affair,
but said the Prime Minister regarded harassment of any kind as

Lord Rennard has strenuously denied “any suggestion of improper touching” of
women who he came into contact with in his role as chief executive.

His friends said he quit on health grounds in May 2009, after being told by
his doctors that he would be dead by the middle of 2010 if he did not slow

One said: “It was not true that a deal was done. He had problems with his
blood balance.”

fresh questions for Nick Clegg over the sex scandal whistleblower –
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