Police issue public warning over Jeffrey Donaldson’s historical sex offence charges

The 61-year-old politician is set to appear in court in Newry on April 24, having been arrested and charged in relation to non-recent sexual allegations.

A 57-year-old woman has been charged with aiding and abetting additional offences in relation to the same police investigation.

It is understood that Mr Donaldson is facing one count of rape, one count of gross indecency and several counts of indecent assault.

In a letter to party officers, he made clear he would be “strenuously contesting” all charges against him.

Friday’s PSNI statement, confirming the charges, did not name Mr Donaldson.

Mr Donaldson was suspended from the DUP and the Orange Order pending the outcome of the judicial process.

He quit as DUP leader but, in his resignation letter, said he would be strenuously denying the allegations against him.

There are strict laws around what can be reported in cases involving allegations of sexual offending, including complete and lifelong anonymity for alleged victims, unless they choose to waive that right.

The PSNI said it was aware of “ongoing commentary” around the case.

It said the publication of any information that could lead to the identification of a victim “is a criminal offence, and can be investigated accordingly”.

A spokesperson said: “On March 29 2024, we confirmed that a 61-year-old man had been charged with non-recent sexual offences, alongside a 57-year-old woman who was charged with aiding and abetting additional offences.

“We are aware of ongoing commentary on social media platforms and in the mainstream media reporting regarding this.

“In investigations of this kind, victims are given complete anonymity by law unless they choose to waive that themselves.

“The publication of any information which is likely to lead to the identification of victims is a criminal offence, and can be investigated accordingly.

“The safeguarding of victims and protection of the integrity of any live investigation is at the forefront of all we do as a Police Service.

“With this in mind we are reminding our local communities and media that such speculation is unhelpful and may ultimately have a negative impact on a criminal justice process.”

He did not step down as Lagan Valley MP and now effectively remains in the House of Commons as an independent. The DUP has no means of making him resign from Westminster.

It is understood he left Northern Ireland early on Friday morning for London where he has an apartment. His 40-year political career is effectively over.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, who is now the DUP’s interim leader, described the historical sex offence charges against his former colleague as a “devastating revelation”.

Sources said party headquarters hopes that Mr Robinson will keep the job permanently, but there is increasing speculation of a challenge to him when nominations open.

A source from the anti-Donaldson wing of the party said it was “time to take back control”.

Those close to the DUP leader such as deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly are seen as vulnerable to their opponents.

Northern Ireland government sources insisted Mr Donaldson’s departure didn’t represent a threat to the Stormont institutions.

They said Mr Robinson had been heavily involved in the negotiations to restore devolution and could work well from Westminster with Ms Little-Pengelly.

The fact that he wasn’t an Executive minister meant he could “focus fully on his leadership without impacting his day job”.

However, other Westminster sources believe that the future of Stormont is at serious risk. “This was Jeffrey’s deal,” one said. “In the main, the rest of the party knew very little about it until the end.

“The danger for those who support the deal is that it will now go down with the man whose fingerprints are all over it.”

A Stormont source said Mr Donaldson’s resignation had brought significant instability to Stormont.

The DUP said it had received a letter from Mr Donaldson saying he had been charged with allegations of a historical nature and that he would be stepping down as leader.

In a statement on Friday, the DUP said: “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.”

Mr Robinson said: “It has been a devastating revelation and has caused tremendous shock not just for myself personally or my colleagues within the DUP, but for the community right across Northern Ireland.

“It came as a great shock. But we are a party and individuals that believe in justice, we have faith in our criminal justice system.”

Mr Robinson said the party became aware of the allegations “very late” on Thursday.

He told Sky News: “So, in the coming days and months I think it is important none of us say anything or act in any way that would seek to prejudice what is now an ongoing criminal investigation.”

He added: “We will focus on the job and task that we have at hand. There have already been some who have sought to score some cheap political points and sought to engage in conspiracy theories who somehow enjoy or will manipulate such devastating news for those involved.”

Mr Donaldson’s website and social media accounts, including X, Facebook and Instagram, were deleted overnight.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “My priority is to continue to provide the leadership the public expect and deserve, and to ensure the four-party Executive coalition delivers for the whole of our community now and in the future.

“The DUP leader has resigned after being charged with serious offences.- This is now a matter for the criminal justice system.”

UUP leader Doug Beattie said: “The leadership of the DUP is a matter for the DUP. Although the circumstances are of concern and in the public interest, we are mindful that this is now a criminal investigation and it would not be proper to comment further.

“In all matters of this nature, we must first and foremost consider the victims and what impact media and public attention will have on them.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “Jeffrey Donaldson’s departure in these very inauspicious and concerning circumstances, after he has done the damage of surrendering his party to the Protocol, has very wide ramifications for unionism.

“Like any individual, he must be afforded the protection of innocent until proven guilty. It must not be forgotten there is a family at the heart of this matter.”

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