Donaldson arrest followed complaint received this month, NI police say

Donaldson arrest followed complaint received this month, NI police say

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said it received a complaint in early March that led them to arrest and charge Sir Jeffrey Donaldson with alleged sexual offences.

In a statement aimed at ending what they described as “unhelpful speculation” over the case, the PSNI said it “immediately commenced an investigation into this matter” after the complaint was received.

“We are again reminding members of the public and media outlets that speculation is unhelpful and in this case inaccurate and may ultimately have a negative impact on a criminal justice process,” the force said on Sunday.

Donaldson was charged on Thursday and resigned as leader of the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) the following day.

The 61-year-old will reportedly “strenuously” contest the allegations. He will appear in court in Newry, County Down, on 24 April.

A 57-year-old woman was charged with aiding and abetting offences in relation to the same complaint.

Donaldson, the MP for Lagan Valley since 1997, had led the DUP since 2021. He has been suspended by the party, but it is understood he remains an MP.

The DUP moved swiftly to replace him, naming Gavin Robinson as interim leader of the party on Friday. Robinson wrote to all DUP members on Saturday morning. The memo said the police and courts “must be allowed to complete their processes without interference”.

“Nothing that any of us say or do must in anyway compromise that process,” he wrote. “There will be some who will attempt to score cheap political points, but I know that colleagues and friends across Northern Ireland will ignore the noise and focus on what really matters.”

The episode has raised fears for the future of Northern Ireland’s fragile power-sharing agreement. The country’s assembly and executive only returned in February, as the DUP ended its boycott over post-Brexit trade arrangements. Donaldson’s support was instrumental in the decision that enabled Sinn Féin, the DUP, the Alliance party and the Ulster Unionist party to govern jointly.

On Saturday the first minister of Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, played down any possibility that the deal would come under threat. O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s vice-president, said: “Now more than ever, what we need to see is cohesion.

“My priority as first minister is to provide that stability, to work with all the other party leaders, all those who form our executive. It’s really, really important now that we knuckle down.”