Ex-DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to face trial over 18 sex offence allegations

Ex-DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will face trial over allegations of 18 historical sex offences.

District Judge Eamonn King, at Newry Magistrates' Court, said he was satisfied Donaldson, 61, and his wife Lady Eleanor Donaldson, 58, who is also facing charges, had a prima facie case to answer during a committal hearing.

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

Donaldson is charged with one count of rape, four of gross indecency and 13 of indecent assault.

His wife faces charges of aiding and abetting in connection with the alleged offences.

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

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

The Northern Irish politician was initially charged with 11 sex offences in April but on Tuesday that was increased to 18, while his wife's charges were increased from four to five, after the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) reviewed the police evidence, as is the normal practice.

Donaldson, who was Northern Ireland's longest-serving MP, resigned as DUP leader after he was charged on 28 March following a day of questioning.

He was suspended by his party and remained as an independent MP until the election was called in May. He is not standing to be re-elected as the Lagan Valley MP, where he served for 27 years.

In a letter to the party after the allegations emerged, he said he would be strenuously contesting the charges.

Donaldson 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.