Northern Ireland

Jeffrey jostled despite heavy police presence at Newry Courthouse

Former DUP leader was met by a medium scrum as he arrived to answer historical sex charges

Solicitor John McBurney, left, accompanies Jeffrey Donaldson as he leaves Newry Magistrates’ Court in April
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (right) and his solicitor John McBurney wait for his car outside Newry Courthouse. PICTURE: PA (Brian Lawless/PA)

Newry Courthouse is no stranger to high-profile criminal cases which attract lots of media attention. It was also the target of a massive dissident republican car bomb 14 years ago. Whether in the past there’s been anything quite like Wednesday’s scene’s is another matter.

The appearance of former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and his wife Eleanor on historical sex charges is without precedent.

It meant the regional media were there in force, while news organisations from the Republic and Britain were both well represented. Add to that, expected interest from the general public and it was clear some additional PSNI resources were required.

Accordingly, there was a heavy police presence at the New St venue from early morning. Up to 100 media personnel initially gathered across the road from the courthouse’s main entrance, among them waiting journalists, presenters, photographers and camera crews.

A handful of photographers even positioned themselves at the rear entrance to what is effectively a heavily fortified compound, ensuring any attempt by their quarry to avoid the cameras by arriving or leaving surreptitiously would be unsuccessful.

There were so many media in attendance that special arrangements were made to facilitate journalists who could not be accommodated in the courtroom
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson navigates his way through the assembled media outside Newry Courthouse. PICTURE: NIALL CARSON/PA

After 9am, with the court officially opened, the press pack moved across the road and gathered at the court’s main entrance. Sir Jeffrey’s solicitor John McBurney arrived soon afterwards and went inside. He emerged 15 minutes or so later just as his client arrived, dropped off by a white Audi.

Amid much jostling and clambering, the former DUP leader walked nonchalantly past the waiting media, ignoring questions, including those about whether he plans to resign his Westminster seat.

Lady Eleanor Donaldson arrived soon afterwards, again walking a gauntlet of eager photographers and cameramen, some using steps to secure a better view.

Inside, it had been agreed that the 13 seats in the press area of Court 3 would pre-allocated to members of the media, including yours truly.

Next door in Court 4, twice as many journalists again watched proceedings on a video link.

With the brief proceedings concluded, the Donaldsons disappeared to a consultation room. Lady Eleanor left around 50 minutes later accompanied by another female, her husband departing shortly afterwards.

However, outside the court, as a handful of members of the public intent on hurling abuse at the accused moved forward, police were at first forced to attempt to make a cordon around Sir Jeffrey before he retreated back inside. He and his solicitor emerged minutes later, having summoned their lift, and disappeared in the same white Audi as insults were hurled.

The scenes were reminiscent of the occasion an anti-agreement mob jostled an embattled David Trimble and his wife Daphne outside a Banbridge count centre in 2001.