Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the former head of Northern Ireland’s DUP, and his wife Lady Eleanor Donaldson appeared at Newry Magistrate’s Court in Co Down today, April 24, to face historical sex abuse charges.

Jeffrey Donaldson, 61, is facing 11 charges - one of rape, one of committing an act of gross indecency, and nine of indecent assault between 1985 and 2006.

Eleanor Donaldson, 58, has been charged with aiding and abetting rape and indecent assault, as well as two counts of cruelty to a person under the age of 16 between January 1985 and December 2004.

The charges relate to two alleged victims.

Citing court records, The Belfast Telegraph reported on Wednesday that the rape charge alleges that Jeffrey Donaldson "had unlawful sexual intercourse" with the alleged victim "who at the time of the said intercourse did not consent to it" on a date unknown between January 1, 1985, and January 1, 1991.

Another charge alleges that Donaldson "committed an act of gross indecency towards a child" on a date between January 1 2005 and December 31, 2006.

The husband and wife, who 'strenuously' deny the allegations against them, did not have to formally enter a plea on Wednesday.

During Wednesday's brief hearing, it was agreed that bail conditions prohibiting contact between the two could be removed. It is understood that Jeffrey has been staying in London while Eleanor remained in Northern Ireland since their arrests late last month. 

Each were released on their own bail of £350. The matter will return to court on May 22, though neither is required to appear for that hearing.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) previously confirmed that on Thursday, March 28, its detectives "arrested and charged a 61-year-old man for non-recent sexual offences.

"A 57-year-old woman was also arrested and charged at the time for aiding and abetting additional offences."

As is usual, the PSNI did not name the people who had been arrested.

Jeffrey Donaldson’s social media accounts were deactivated the night of the arrests. 

On March 29, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), confirmed that Donaldson had stepped down as party leader and that he had been suspended from the party.

The party said in a statement: "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.

“The Party Officers have this morning unanimously appointed Mr. Gavin Robinson MP as the Interim Party Leader."

Donaldson, a former member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), became head of the DUP in 2021 following Edwin Poots' short-lived tenure. He has been an MP for Lagan Valley since 1997.