Sir Jeffrey Donaldson stands down as DUP leader after historical sex offences charge

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is due to appear in court in Newry in April, having been arrested and charged in relation to non-recent sexual allegations

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has stood down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party after being charged with historical sex offences.

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

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

UTV understands the charges against Sir Jeffrey include one count of rape, one of gross indecency and several of indecent assault.

It's understood he has written a letter to the DUP saying that he will be 'strenuously' denying the charges.

The Lagan Valley MP has been suspended from the DUP pending the outcome of the judicial process and East Belfast MP and deputy leader Gavin Robinson has been appointed interim party leader.

A statement from the DUP said: "The Party Chairman has received a letter from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP confirming that he has been charged with allegations of an historical nature and indicating that he is stepping down as Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party with immediate effect.

"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."

It is understood Sinn Féin First Minister Michelle O'Neill has spoken to the main four party leaders, including the new DUP leader, Gavin Robinson, where she emphasised the need for power sharing to continue and deliver.

Meanwhile Mr Robinson described charges of historical sex offences against Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as a “devastating revelation” for the party.

The East Belfast MP 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.”

Sir Jeffrey, who has had an almost 40-year career in politics, became DUP leader in July 2021.

His career started with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and in 1985, aged 22, he was the youngest person to be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The 61-year-old’s relationship with former UUP leader David Trimble deteriorated when he led a walkout of the 1998 peace talks after opposing the early release of republican and loyalist prisoners.

He left the party and joined the DUP in January 2004.

He was recognised by the Queen in her 2016 Birthday Honours and was given a knighthood.

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