Northern Ireland

Part of Noah Donohoe PII coroner hearing 'to be closed'

A mural dedicated to Noah Donohoe in the New Lodge Road area of north Belfast
A mural dedicated to Noah Donohoe in the New Lodge Road area of north Belfast

THE Coroners Service has revealed that part of a hearing to rule on a PSNI application to withhold some information linked to the investigation into the disappearance and death of Noah Donohoe will be heard in private.

The hearing into the potential use of Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificates in the case is expected to heard on September 1.

The inquest is set to begin in November.

The 14-year-old went missing during a bike trip from his home in south Belfast on June 21 2020.

His body was found in a north Belfast storm drain six days later .

Read More: 'Justice for Noah' banners displayed at Glasgow's Celtic Park

A post-mortem examination found that the St Malachy's College pupil had died as a result of drowning.

Since his death his family has led a campaign to establish the circumstances of events leading up to his death.

Noah Donohoe's mother Fiona Donohoe pictured at last weekend's protest in Belfast
Noah Donohoe's mother Fiona Donohoe pictured at last weekend's protest in Belfast

Campaign supporters, known as Noah's Army, have also been vocal in highlighting public concern over the case.

Among the issues raised is belief in some quarters that the teenager may have been abducted and murdered by loyalists.

In recent months several individuals have been named on social media as being involved.

The Irish News can reveal that complaints have since been made to police about social media posts linked to the case.

A spokeswoman for the PSNI told The Irish News it had received two complaints.

Both she said had been assessed and no criminal offences have been identified.

Noah Donohoe died in 2020
Noah Donohoe died in 2020

Suspicion surrounding the teenager's death however was compounded by an application by the PSNI for PII certificates.

These certificates are used by state agencies to conceal information they don't want placed in the public domain.

In the past they have mainly been used in Troubles and paramilitary related cases.

Earlier this month there was a sharp backlash when it emerged that Secretary of State Shailesh Vara had signed off on the PSNI request for the use of PIIs in Noah's case.

The final decision on whether the certificates will be granted will fall to coroner Joe McCrisken on September 1.

Shortly after Noah's death Mr McCrisken demanded an end to online speculation about Noah's death.

At the time he branded some of the social media commentary as inaccurate, baseless and potentially criminal.

A spokeswoman for the Coroners Service said it would not be appropriate for a coroner to comment on an ongoing inquest. However she confirmed that "part of the PII hearing will be closed".

Niall Murphy, of KRW Law, who represents Noah's mother Fiona, has previously said they hold "grave concerns" about the PII application.

"The application is live before the court, and we shall be making our strenuous objections at the appropriate stage of those proceedings," he said.

"As we have already observed to the coroner, the application for PII in Noah's inquest was entirely unexpected, and is, in these circumstances, unique in our experience."

Recent reports have claimed that PSNI files linked to the teenager's death show no loyalist or state agent involvement.

It was also claimed that three files are the subject of PII certificates with the first file containing intelligence documents while the second is an overview of police action, lines of inquiry and intelligence.

The third contains PSNI notebooks, conference notes and maps of the search area.

It has been suggested that some of the redactions are designed to protect intelligence reference numbers and those providing information, the Sunday Independent reported.

Earlier this month large protests in support of Noah's family were held across the north.

Politicians have also registered their concerns.

A spokesman for the Alliance Party said it "recognised the concerns expressed at the recent issuing of a PII certificate."

He added his party has "been calling for as much transparency as possible around this, to reassure the Donohoe family and the public.

"We hope the process provides the answers they deserve," he added.

South Belfast MP Claire Hanna previously said on Twitter she had written to the PSNI "about the potential use of PII certificates" .

At last week's rally Sinn Féin north Belfast MP John Finucane said supporters stood with the family to get the 'answers they deserve through our legal system'.

Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit MLA for West Belfast, said:

"There should be no backroom discussions with the PSNI until the PII is scrapped and there is a proper, transparent attempt to get justice for Noah Donohoe," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Policing Board last night said it was expected that the case will be raised at a full meeting of the oversight body on September 1 - the same day as the PII hearing.

A spokeswoman for the PSNI last night said: "The disappearance and death of Noah Donohoe is subject to an ongoing coronial investigation.

"The (PSNI) continue to investigate under their Police (NI) Act 2000 duty, but also provide assistance to the coroner, so it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time."