Donaldson will not seek re-election amid sex offences case, says solicitor

Former DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, who is facing a series of historical sex offence charges, will not contest the general election, his solicitor has confirmed.

The statement came after a judge fixed a date for a hearing to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to send Donaldson to trial.

The July 3 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, Jeffrey Donaldson’s solicitor John McBurney confirmed that the Lagan Valley MP would not be standing for re-election, but indicated he intends to remains as an MP until the general election.

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Former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leaving Newry Magistrates’ Court after his first court appearance in April (Niall Carson/PA)

“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.”

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

Jeffrey Donaldson, 61, 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.

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Eleanor Donaldson arrives at Newry Magistrates’ Court in April (Brian Lawless/PA)

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.”

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Solicitor John McBurney, left, accompanies Jeffrey Donaldson as he leaves Newry Magistrates’ Court in April (PA)

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.

The judge also agreed to a request from a lawyer representing Jeffrey Donaldson to make an “uncontentious” amendment to his client’s bail conditions.

No other substantive 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.

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