The Lib Dems have been accused of trying to cover up allegations that former party chief executive Lord Rennard groped a series of female activists.

The Daily Mail reported on 23 February that one woman was sacked from the party and ordered to sign a gagging order after attempting to go public with her claims against Lord Rennard, while another who claims to have been sexually harassed by the peer says that she was offered the chance to confront him directly in private about his actions.

When she refused and threatened to take her story to the press she was told that "she no longer had a future" in the party.

The paper claims that at least ten women have now come forward with complaints about Lord Rennard's behaviour.

Party leader Nick Clegg has ordered an inquiry into the allegations, and has denied knowledge of specific claims, but the Mail quoted one official saying that his office knew about the accusations as far back as 2008.

Stephen Tall, co-editor of website Lib Dem Voice, comparing the case to the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal that engulfed the BBC, said: "There is a gulf both in the severity and scale of the allegations. But there is also a potentially worrying similarity: that just as the BBC turned a blind eye to the alleged offences one of its stars, so too did the Lib Dems.

"The party has to acknowledge the seriousness not only of the allegations themselves, but also the alleged cover-up," he added, and called for a fully independent inquiry.

Lord Rennard has strenuously denied all allegations, and said yesterday that he will "stand aside" from his party roles while the claims are investigated.

In a statement, his lawyers said that Lord Rennard had "always strived to conduct himself responsibly and appropriately at all times and has no recollection of any inappropriate behaviour".

The allegations were first broadcast in the UK by Channel 4 News on Thursday 21 February.

The following day, the programme broadcast harassment claims from two more women.

All say that party authorities failed to take appropriate action when they complained about Lord Rennard's behaviour.

A statement issued on behalf of Lord Rennard said: "I am disappointed and angry that anonymous accusations from several years ago are once again being made public in this manner in a clear attempt to damage my reputation.

"Let me reiterate that in 27 years working for the Liberal Democrat Party, not a single personal complaint was ever made against me to my knowledge."

In 2009 Lord Rennard stepped aside as chief executive, a post he had held since 2003, citing health reasons. Lord Rennard has denied any suggestion that he resigned as chief executive as a result of allegations about inappropriate behaviour.