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Former Northern Ireland unionist leader ordered to stand trial for alleged sex offenses

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LONDON (AP) — A judge on Wednesday ordered the former leader of Northern Ireland’s biggest unionist party to stand trial on charges of rape and sexual offenses.

Ex-Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson, 61, faces one charge of rape, four counts of gross indecency and 13 indecent assault charges dating between 1985 and 2008. The charges involve two alleged victims.

His wife Eleanor Donaldson, 58, is charged with aiding and abetting the alleged crimes.

The two did not enter pleas during a brief committal hearing at Newry Magistrates’ Court. Asked if he wanted to say anything in answer to the charges, Donaldson responded: “Not at this stage.”

The pair were released on bail until a pre-trial hearing on Sept. 10.

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.

He also quit as a lawmaker in the U.K. Parliament before Thursday’s national election.

His resignation shocked the DUP just months after the party agreed to return to Northern Ireland’s on-again, off-again 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.