Coroner says he cannot give assurance when Noah Donohoe inquest will take place
A coroner has said he is not in a position to say when an inquest into the death of Belfast schoolboy Noah Donohoe will take place, due to the impact of “pandemic pressures” on the availability of court facilities.
Coroner Joe McCrisken said that a “significant number” of criminal cases needed to be heard because Covid had led to a reduced number of court facilities being used.
Noah, a 14-year-old pupil at St Malachy’s College, was found dead in a storm drain in north Belfast in June 2020, six days after he went missing.
His mother Fiona is hoping to secure answers to some of the unanswered questions surrounding his death through the inquest process.
At a pre-inquest review hearing, counsel for the coroner Sean Doran QC said all parties would welcome the certainty of a date for the full inquest.
He said: “I do think we are at a stage now where most matters are fully attended to and we are getting to the stage where we would all wish to have the certainty of a hearing date in place in the near future.”
Brenda Campbell QC, counsel for Noah’s mother, told the hearing that she did not want an inquest date that was too far in the future.
She said: “From Noah’s mother’s perspective it is much more important to have everything comprehensively completed in advance of the inquest, we are in no rush towards a date.
“But equally, knowing the pressures that are on the system, to find a date, really the sooner the better because what we don’t want is a date that is too far in the future.”
But coroner Mr McCrisken said: “I am not in a position now to even give any provisional view as to when we may be in a position to find a courtroom.
“The pandemic pressures haven’t eased in terms of resources.
“We are in a difficult position where there are a significant amount of criminal cases that need to be heard with half the resources available.
“I will indicate that this matter is likely to be able to be heard for inquest, this year, early next year.
“There are a number of other inquests which are in the same position.”
He added: “We had really hoped the pressures would have eased by now and we hope from this point on things will become slightly clearer in terms of availability of courtrooms.
“I am just in no position to give any concrete assurances.”
The hearing was also given an update on the disclosure of PSNI material relating to Noah’s death.
Mr Doran said: “We are at the stage where nearly all of the materials listed have been disclosed to properly interested persons.
“The one area in respect of which disclosure has not yet been made to all properly interested persons is the sensitive materials.”
Mr Doran said that three folders of sensitive material were being prepared for potential Public Interest Immunity (PII) certification, which could lead to some sections being redacted.
He said: “It is my understanding that work on this commenced on February 7. An appointment with the deputy chief constable (Mark Hamilton) is arranged for February 25.
“What will happen thereafter is any certificate to be produced in relation to materials will have to be signed off by a minister.”
Ms Campbell said: “What is causing most concern at the moment is the issue of the sensitive materials.
“Plainly, until we have sight of them, in whatever redacted format we have, we are unable to respond in any detail.
“I would urge upon the court that it is causing a huge amount of anxiety.
“The sooner this process can be completed the better for all concerned.
“There is an urgency to this so that we can participate in the process. It is a matter of significant concern to Noah’s mother.”