Jeffrey Donaldson: Ex-DUP leader in court over rape and sex offence charges

Former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has appeared in court charged with rape and 10 other historical sex offences.

His wife, Lady Eleanor Donaldson, a co-accused in the case, faces four charges.

The offences are alleged to have occurred between 1985 and 2006 and involve two alleged victims.

The pair were arrested at their home on 28 March and charged by police after a day of questioning.

Sir Jeffrey, 61, who remains MP for Lagan Valley, quit as party leader with immediate effect.

Gavin Robinson was appointed as the party's interim leader.

What is Jeffrey Donaldson accused of?

He appeared at Newry Magistrates' Court on Wednesday facing 11 charges - one of rape; one of gross indecency involving a child; and nine counts of indecent assault.

The charges against his 58-year-old wife are connected to aiding and abetting his alleged offences.

There was a huge media presence outside the entrance to the court as Sir Jeffrey arrived; they were taking pictures and some shouted questions.

When the hearing began, the couple stood together in the dock, separated by a custody officer.

Both stood up when the charges against them were read out.

They spoke only to confirm their names and dates of birth.

A detective sergeant told the court that the police believe they can connect both accused to the charges.

Neither defendant was asked to formally enter a plea, as is usual in a first court appearance - that will happen at a later stage of proceedings.

Bail conditions were then discussed.

The pair can have contact with each other, but not with any prosecution witnesses.

They were each released on £350 bail.

The case was next listed for 22 May, but neither accused has to appear in court on that date.

The hearing lasted seven minutes.

Who is Jeffrey Donaldson?

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was elected leader of the DUP in 2021.

He is Northern Ireland's longest-serving MP, having been first elected to Parliament in 1997 as a representative of the Ulster Unionist Party.

A large police presence surrounded Newry court as Sir Jeffrey Donaldson arrived
A large police presence surrounded Newry court as Sir Jeffrey Donaldson arrived [PA Media]

In 2003, he left that party to join the DUP due to his long-standing opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and the leadership of David Trimble.

Sir Jeffrey recently steered the DUP back into government in Northern Ireland ending a two-year boycott of the devolved institutions.

He was knighted in 2016 for political service.