Northern Ireland

Jeffrey Donaldson’s bail conditions amended as date set for next court appearance

Former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leaves court in Newry, accused of a number of historical sex offences.

Former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leaving court in Newry after a previous apperance, accused of a number of historical sex offences. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

A hearing to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to send former DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson to trial over historical sex offences will take place on July 3, a court has heard.

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

After the hearing, a solicitor for Jeffrey Donaldson confirmed that Lagan Valley MP would not be standing for re-election, but intends to remains as an MP until the general election.

Neither accused was in court on Wednesday morning, having been excused from attending.

The 61-year-old MP was arrested and charged in relation to 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.

The next review hearing in the case will take place on June 12.

Barrister Fiona O’Kane, for the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service, gave an update on progress of the case on Wednesday.

“The case is progressing quite expeditiously,” she told District Judge Eamonn King.

“The position this morning is that we would hope to be able to have the PE (preliminary enquiry) itself on the third of July.”

She said the review hearing on June 12 would provide an opportunity to check that progress towards the committal hearing was still on track.

The barrister said papers on the case were being prepared.

“I understand that both defendants’ solicitors will accept service of the papers to facilitate the progress of the PE, so that makes matters a lot easier,” she added.

A lawyer representing Eleanor Donaldson questioned whether the PE could be brought forward to the June 12 hearing date. When Ms O’Kane indicated that would not be possible, he said he was content not to pursue that request.

Judge King then confirmed the preliminary enquiry would take place on July 3.

“We’ll review on the 12th of June to make sure that we are on track for the PE on the third of July,” he added.

A lawyer representing Jeffrey Donaldson then asked the judge to agree to what he described as an “uncontentious” amendment to his client’s bail conditions.

He explained that a condition on the bail granted by police when Donaldson was arrested was that he was to have no unsupervised contact with anyone under the age of 16.

When the politician appeared in court for the first time last month, that police bail was converted to bail granted by the court.

The lawyer said in the process of converting the bail conditions, the term “unsupervised” was omitted in the court bail, leaving the condition stating that Donaldson was to have no contact with anyone under the age of 16.

The judge agreed for the word unsupervised to be added to the condition in the court bail.

However, after a request from the PPS barrister Ms O’Kane, he added a stipulation that the person supervising any contact Jeffrey Donaldson had with anyone under the age of 16 could not be his co-accused, Eleanor Donaldson.

No other issues were raised during the brief review hearing, which lasted only three minutes.

Jeffrey 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 deputy leader, Gavin Robinson, has been appointed interim DUP leader.

Outside court on Wednesday, Jeffrey Donaldson’s solicitor John McBurney confirmed his client would not be seeking re-election as an MP.

However, Mr McBurney indicated Donaldson would not be standing down until the general election.

“I can indicate that it is not Jeffrey’s intention of course to stand for re-election,” he told RTE.

“He will be concentrating on the case and defending the charges. He is continuing as the MP at the present time. There’s various matters to be dealt (with), constituency matters and administrative matters to do with his offices and so forth.”