Ex-DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson in court charged with rape - his wife charged with aiding him

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, has appeared at court charged with rape and other historical sex offences.

He has been charged with one count of rape, one count of gross indecency towards a child and nine counts of sexual assault on dates between 1985 and 2006.

His wife, Eleanor Donaldson, 58, appeared alongside him in court and is charged with aiding and abetting him.

Both were released on bail after appearing at Newry Magistrates Court in Co Down.

Donaldson, 61, who is Northern Ireland's longest-serving MP, was suspended by the party following his arrest last month.

In a statement at the time, the DUP said: "The Party Chairman has received a letter from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP confirming that he has been charged with allegations of an historical nature and indicating that he is stepping down as Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party with immediate effect.

"In accordance with the Party Rules, the Party Officers have suspended Mr Donaldson from membership, pending the outcome of a judicial process."

Donaldson said he would be strenuously contesting the charges in his resignation letter. He had been arrested at his home in County Down the previous morning and taken to Antrim Police Station for questioning.

Donaldson, who has been MP for Lagan Valley for 27 years, was knighted for his services to politics in 2016.

He helped broker the DUP's £1bn confidence and supply deal with Theresa May's minority Tory government, when the party held the balance of power at Westminster between 2017 and 2019.

More recently, he had compromised and led his party back into the power-sharing government at Stormont, which it had boycotted for two years over post-Brexit trading arrangements.