PADDY Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, has revealed he and colleagues "all picked up the rumours" about Lord Rennard some time before women publicly accused the party's ex-chief executive of sexually pestering them.
The Liberal Democrat veteran said he did not hear any speculation about the Lord Rennard's behaviour while he was leader more than a decade ago. However, he suggested speculation about Lord Rennard was later on widespread, before allegations were made by several Liberal Democrat women on Channel Four last week.
Campaigning in Eastleigh, Lord Ashdown said: "We all picked up the rumours some time before the Channel Four thing."
Pressed later on when exactly he first heard complaints about Lord Rennard, he said: "There were rumours starting to circulate around Westminster and I expect they were heard by all people from all parties."
Asked again exactly what he heard and when, Lord Ashdown said he could not remember but it was probably "in the build up" to Channel Four's broadcast.
He said Nick Clegg was doing a good job at handling the situation but the party would need to be "self-critical" after inquiries into the allegations are finished.
All these things are better decided through calm proper inquiries than at this stage being discussed in this fashion," he said.
His comments came as more senior Liberal Democrats faced questions as to what they knew about Lord Rennard's alleged wrongdoing and what they did in response. In the course of the day:
* A pregnant whistleblower was forced out of the party and made to sign a gagging order.
* British PM David Cameron told Nick Clegg that he must get to the bottom of the allegations.
* Nick Clegg appeared to attack newspapers and broadcasters who exposed the scandal as "self-appointed detectives trying to piece together events that happened many years ago."
* Labour MP John Mann accused Clegg of attempting to “politically manage” the scandal instead of approaching the police.
* A Liberal Democrat councillor said that she had been molested by Lord Rennard, that she knew of nine other alleged victims and that the British Health Minister was aware of her complaint. Mr lamb had said that he wanted action to be taken.
* In a statement Lord Rennard insisted he was innocent and urged people to allow the investigation to run its course without further comment. He denied he had been confronted about his behaviour by senior party members.
A spokesman for Lord Rennard said: "Lord Rennard refutes these allegations. He will co-operate with any properly constituted inquiry.
"He has been notified of an internal investigatory panel within the Party. 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.
"He would reiterate that in 27 years of working for the Liberal Democrats he received no complaint or allegation about his behaviour.
"Nor is he aware of any personal complaints being made in the three and a half years since he stood down as chief executive until last week."