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KEYWORD NOTICE – Ex-leader of Northern Ireland’s biggest unionist party faces sex offense charges dating to 1985

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LONDON (AP) — The former leader of Northern Ireland’s biggest unionist party was jeered as he left court Wednesday following his appearance on sexual abuse charges dating back nearly four decades.

Some members of the public shouted at Jeffrey Donaldson and lunged toward him, and he had to be surrounded by police as he left Newry Magistrates’ Court following his first appearance since his arrest last month.

Donaldson, 61, faces one charge of rape, a single charge of gross indecency and nine indecent assault charges dating from 1985 to 2006.

His wife, Eleanor Mary Elizabeth Donaldson, 58, faces four counts of aiding and abetting the alleged crimes.

The two did not enter pleas during a brief appearance together in court. They spoke only to confirm their names, birth dates and to acknowledge they understood the charges. They were released on bail.

Donaldson resigned as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, after he was arrested on March 28.

In a letter to party leaders, Donaldson said he would be “strenuously contesting” the charges.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said the arrest followed a complaint about old offenses made in early March. The charges involve two alleged victims.

His resignation shocked the DUP just months after the party agreed to return to Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government after he won concessions on Britain’s post-Brexit trading arrangements with the European Union.

As leader of the DUP between 2021 and 2023, he was the most powerful figure in Northern Ireland’s unionist movement, which seeks to maintain the region’s historic ties to the United Kingdom.

The court case was adjourned until May 22.

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