Jeffrey Donaldson, ex-DUP leader, accused of rape and gross indecency with a child

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at Newry magistrates' court
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been released on bail after he was read the 11 sex offence charges at Newry magistrates' court - MARK MARLOW/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been accused of 11 sex offences including rape and gross indecency with a child.

The former Democratic Unionist Party leader appeared in court on Wednesday in Northern Ireland.

He arrived separately to his wife, Lady Donaldson, who is charged with aiding and abetting the rape and an indecent assault. The pair stood in the dock together at Newry magistrates’ court.

Wearing a grey suit and green tie, and sitting sometimes with his arms crossed, the veteran unionist spoke only to confirm his name, age and that he understood the charges in front of a packed courtroom where he was accused of abusing two victims.

Sir Jeffrey, who was forced to quit as leader of his party after being charged last month, stood in the dock with his wife of 36 years with a prison officer in between them.

Lady Donaldson, the politician's wife, also attended the court in Northern Ireland to hear the charges
Lady Donaldson, the politician's wife, also attended the court in Northern Ireland to hear the charges - Charles McQuillan/Getty Images Europe

The politician is charged with one count of rape, one count of gross indecency towards a child and nine counts of indecent assault during a period of alleged offending spanning more than 20 years.

Amid a tight security presence, Sir Jeffrey arrived at court just after 9.30am with John McBurney, his solicitor, and appeared before district judge Eamonn King.

During the eight-minute hearing, the court heard Sir Jeffrey was charged with raping on an unknown date between January 1985 and January 1991. The charge states he “had unlawful sexual intercourse” with the alleged victim who “did not consent to it” or Sir Jeffrey was “being reckless as to whether the said person consented”.

He is charged with four counts of indecent assault against the same victim that allegedly took place between January 1985 and December 1991.

It is also alleged Sir Jeffrey abused a second victim and committed an act of gross indecency towards a child between January 2005 and December 2006.

He is charged with five indecent assaults against the same victim between January 1998 and January 2006.

Aiding and abetting

Lady Donaldson, 58, is facing four charges spanning nearly 10 years relating to the same alleged victims.

She is accused of aiding and abetting the rape and one indecent assault allegedly committed by her husband.

The case will next be heard on May 22, when the defendants do not need to be present. No details of the police investigation were provided

Sir Jeffrey was released on bail but his conditions have been varied to allow him to speak to his wife. It was agreed during the hearing that bail conditions prohibiting contact between the couple could be removed.

The pair were spared a trip to the cells where defendants usually sign their bail conditions as the judge said other arrangements could be made on this occasion. Each defendant was released on their own bail of £350.

There were dramatic scenes at the start of the day as police struggled to hold back photographers eager to capture the first shots of the former DUP leader in public since his arrest as he arrived at court.

The car transporting the MP initially pulled up at the vehicular entrance to court, triggering a mass surge of media towards the vehicle.

The driver then appeared to have second thoughts about the drop-off location, edging back out onto the road again before stopping yards away adjacent to the pedestrian door.

After initially leaving and finding himself in the middle of a scrum, he returned to the court’s grounds before attempting to leave for a second time and getting into a car waiting for him. His wife left separately around ten minutes earlier.

When Sir Jeffrey exited the court there were similar scenes and he was forced to make two attempts to leave amid a media scrum and shouts from members of the public.

The unionist and his wife were arrested on the morning of March 28 when police arrived at his home in Co Down. The couple were taken to Antrim Police Station, where they were questioned separately and charged that evening.

The politician was named by the DUP after the party’s chairman received a letter from Sir Jeffrey confirming he had been charged with historical offences and that he would be stepping down as leader with immediate effect.

He has been suspended pending the judicial process but an MP and told the party he would be  “strenuously contesting” the charges.