Committal hearing for Donaldson historical sex charge case set for July 3

By David Young (PA)

A hearing to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to send former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to trial on historical sex charges will take place on July 3, a judge has confirmed.

The timing of the committal proceedings, known as a preliminary enquiry (PE), was fixed when the case against Donaldson and his co-accused, his wife Lady Eleanor Donaldson, was briefly mentioned at Newry Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

Neither of the accused was in court for the short hearing but both will have to appear in person on July 3.

Lawyers for both accused, and a barrister for the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service, all confirmed to District Judge Eamonn King that they would be ready for the committal proceedings to be heard on July 3.

It has already been confirmed that Donaldson, who was the long-standing MP for Lagan Valley, is not running for re-election in the UK General Election the following day.

The 61-year-old was arrested and charged in relation to the historical sexual allegations at the end of March.

He faces 11 charges: one of rape; one of committing an act of gross indecency; and nine of indecent assault on dates between 1985 and 2006. The offences relate to two alleged victims.

His wife, 58, of Dublinhill Road, Dromore, faces charges of aiding and abetting in connection with the alleged offences.

Barrister Fiona O’Kane, for the PPS, told the judge the case was “on track” as solicitors for both accused confirmed they had received the papers related to the prosecution.

The judge confirmed the PE would begin at 10.30am on July 3.

“The defendants are to appear in person,” he added.

No other substantive issues were raised during the review hearing, which lasted just over a minute.

Donaldson resigned as DUP leader and was suspended from the party after the allegations against him emerged in March.

It is understood that in a letter to DUP party officers at the time, he made clear he would be “strenuously contesting” all charges against him.

Weeks prior to his arrest, he had led the DUP back into Stormont following a two-year boycott of the powersharing institutions.

East Belfast MP and previous deputy leader, Gavin Robinson, has been appointed his successor as DUP leader.

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