Council leader must now examine his conscience

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And about time, too. But what on earth took them so long?

The Liberal Democrats, stung by former chief executive Lord Rennard’s refusal to apologise to female activists who claim he touched them inappropriately, have finally acted on MP Mike Hancock.

The party – the party nationally note, not Portsmouth Lib Dems – has now suspended his membership.

Mr Hancock stood down from the parliamentary whip seven months ago after the alleged victim of his sexual assault launched legal action against him.

But the veteran city councillor and Portsmouth South MP has been allowed to continue as a Lib Dem councillor for Fratton and carry on as the cabinet member for planning, regeneration and economic development.

He denies the allegations and insists he will vigorously defend himself in court.

But had allegations of this nature been made in any other walk of life, either in the public or private sector, the accused would have been ordered to take gardening leave until he was either found innocent or guilty.

That Mr Hancock has been permitted to continue in a leading role on the authority is outrageous.

But why has this happened?

We suspect we should look no further than the man hand-picked by Mr Hancock many years ago to become his natural successor on the council and, many surmised, to fight his Portsmouth South seat when he retired – Gerald Vernon-Jackson.

As the Lib Dem leader of Portsmouth City Council, one word from him would have saved the council months of embarrassment over the Hancock affair whatever its outcome.

Within minutes of Mr Hancock’s suspension being announced there were calls for Cllr Vernon-Jackson’s part in all this to be examined.

And the normally loquacious council leader had very little to say at the most important moment in his leadership.

We too think he should take a hard look at his decision to stand by his man.