Northern Ireland news

Calls for storm drain safety after Noah Donohoe tragedy

Karen Crooks at a storm drain behind her home on Northwood Street in north Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

SAFETY fears have been raised about children being able to access a storm drain where schoolboy Noah Donohoe lost his life.

A mother whose garden is beside the underground waterway in north Belfast called for greater security measures, warning the tragedy "could have been avoided".

Noah's body was found in the storm drain on Saturday, after nearly a week of intensive searches when he went missing near Shore Road.

The 14-year-old is believed to have been severely disoriented after falling off his bike and sustaining a head injury.

He cycled into Northwood Road where he is believed to have entered a large culvert behind some of the homes, adjacent to Northwood Park.

The culvert, which carries water from a stream, is covered by a large metal grate with bars around 7.5 inches apart.

Noah's body is understood to have been found much further along the underground waterway.

Residents say the bars are too far apart, and have questioned whether a section of the grating was properly padlocked when Noah lost his life.

Karen Crooks (36) has three children, a 17-year-old girl and two boys aged seven and five, and her garden is beside the culvert.

She expressed her shock when one of her sons revealed he had squeezed through the grate while out playing.

"My boys would think nothing of it. They play away up here. I have a photo of my boy sitting here during lockdown," she said.

"I didn't know he could get through that. He has now told me he has gotten through that. I took confidence in knowing that was a safety-regulated grate and posed no threat to my children."

On the Noah tragedy, she added: "It could have been one of mine. They could have been out here playing, I could have called them for tea, and one of them mightn't have returned."

Ms Crooks has lived in the area much of her life and recalls the stream being piped up in the early 1990s when the park was created.

She said she understood that further down the pipe "there is a massive drop".

Ms Crooks called for greater safety measures around such culverts, "especially in a residential area".

"How many of these are in Belfast and Northern Ireland? How many children are at risk?"

"Somebody needs to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said of Noah's tragic death.

"This could have been avoided. And Fiona [Noah's mother] shouldn't be going through what she is going through right now.

"I don't want another mother to have to deal with this."

Noah left his home in the Ormeau Road area of south Belfast on Sunday June 21 and was last seen after 6pm on Northwood Road off Shore Road.

It is believed that, disoriented after a fall, he had cycled into the residential street where he took off his clothes and later gained access to the storm drain.

Police said they do not believe there was any foul play in his death.

Ms Crooks said she had seen Noah's bicycle lying outside her home that Sunday, and later alerted police after becoming aware of their appeal for the missing child.

"It's heartbreaking. My heart is broken for Noah and his mum and the whole family," she said.

She said some of Noah's relatives had visited her home during searches, describing them as "such an amazing family".

Pastor Brian Madden, who was involved in volunteer searches for the teenager, questioned whether the culvert grate had been locked shut when Noah went missing.

"As far as I'm concerned, I know guys who could get in through there. If there's children here, that should not be acceptable – it just can't be," he said.

"The sad thing is if it could have been prevented. It's sad that something like this has to happen to look at the design of things like this."

Belfast City Council and NI Water said the storm drain would not be their responsibility.

The Department for Infrastructure's Rivers branch is responsible for maintaining and inspecting watercourses in Northern Ireland to ensure they are free-flowing.

A spokeswoman for the department said: "Our sincere and heartfelt sympathies are extended to the Donohoe family following the tragic death of Noah.

"Departmental officials are available to help the PSNI while they establish the circumstances around this tragic incident.

"No further information can be provided at this time."

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