Former DUP leader Donaldson sent for trial over alleged historical sex offences

Former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been sent for trial over allegations of historical sex offences.

A district judge at Newry Magistrates’ Court said he was satisfied that Donaldson, 61, and his wife and co-accused Lady Eleanor Donaldson, 58, of Dublinhill Road, Dromore, had a prima facie case to answer during a committal hearing on Wednesday.

They will next appear at Newry Crown Court on September 10 for an arraignment hearing ahead of their trial.

During his court appearance on Wednesday, Donaldson was asked if he wanted to say anything in answer to the charges. He responded: “Not at this stage.”

Donaldson (pictured) is accused of one charge of rape, four of gross indecency and 13 charges of indecent assault.

The charges span a time period between 1985 and 2008.

Donaldson has previously indicated that he will contest the charges against him.

Eleanor Donaldson faces charges of aiding and abetting in connection with the alleged offences.

There was a significant police presence when Donaldson arrived at Newry courthouse, but no repeat of the chaotic scenes of his last appearance in April.

The small courtroom was packed for the hearing. Donaldson and his wife sat separated by court custody officers at the back of the room.

Jeffrey Donaldson wore a navy blue suit and sported a beard. Eleanor Donaldson wore a cream jacket.

After confirming their names and addresses, the charges were read in the preliminary enquiry (PE) hearing.

The hearing was to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to progress the case to crown court trial.

Donaldson is now facing 18 historical sex offence charges following a review of the case by Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service. He had originally faced 11 charges when he first appeared in court in April.

His wife is facing five charges.

There are two alleged victims.

District Judge Eamonn King said: “I am satisfied on the basis of the papers before the court that there is a prima facie case to answer.”

The court clerk then asked the defendants if they wanted to say anything at this stage in answer to the charges.

Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Not at this stage.”

His wife said: “No”.

Donaldson made the same response when asked if he wanted to tender any written statements of evidence at this stage of the proceedings.

Both were released on continuing bail until September 10.

It has already been confirmed that Donaldson, who was the long-standing MP for Lagan Valley, is not running for re-election in the UK General Election this week.

He was arrested and charged in relation to the historical sexual allegations at the end of March.

Donaldson resigned as DUP leader and was suspended from the party after the allegations against him emerged.

It is understood that in a letter to DUP party officers at the time, he made clear he would be “strenuously contesting” all charges against him.

Weeks prior to his arrest, he had led the DUP back into Stormont following a two-year boycott of the powersharing institutions.

Previous deputy leader Gavin Robinson has been appointed his successor as DUP leader.

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