Northern Ireland news

Redacted material in Noah case contains no information on possible third party involvement, cover-up: judge

Noah Donohoe died in 2020
John Breslin

BLACKED out parts of files relating to the police investigation into the disappearance and death of Noah Donohoe show no third party involvement or a cover-up, a judge said yesterday.

Mr Justice Michael Humphreys, the presiding coroner, ruled in favour of the PSNI and its use of a public interest immunity (PII) certificate to stop certain information being revealed in public.

An inquest into the June 2020 death of the 14-year-old pupil is due to begin in late November.

His mother Fiona had objected to the redaction of certain details contained in three folders, a review of the case, intelligence reports and, in the third, information from notebooks, conference notes, log reports and an action register.

Mr Justice Humphreys found the document numbers, the grading of intelligence and details of police methodology, should be with-held as revealing the information would cause serious harm to the public interest, more specifically national security.

But he added: "The representatives of the next of kin can be assured that nothing has been redacted which shows that any third party was involved in Noah Donohoe's death, nor that would suggest there has been any cover-up in the course of the investigation".

The judge, who will not preside over the inquest itself, said the information redacted is not of "central relevance" to attempting to answer questions around how Noah found his way into the drain or the police investigation.

It does include details on how police glean information from mobile phones and computers and the operational elements of special search operations, information that could be helpful to "terrorists and other criminals", Judge Humphreys said.

Since his disappearance and the finding of his body in a north Belfast storm drain, the case has attracted intense scrutiny and much speculation.

The decision by the then Secretary of State Shaillesh Vala to sign off the PII certificate provoked a Belfast protest attended by thousands and a petition signed by approximately 300,000.

No members of the public attended the hearing at Belfast's Laganside court complex. Ms Donohoe attended via video-link alongside her solicitor.

Under the legislation and case law, when considering the "not unusual" request for a PII certificate, the open administration of justice is of fundamental importance even when national security is cited, Judge Humphreys said.

It is up the courts to decide on whether to grant the request to with-hold information after weighing the potential harm to national security and the open administration of justice, he added.

The PSNI argued the information will reveal details of the methods, techniques and equipment, persons who provide information in confidence, operational capabilities and strategy and identification of members of the force.

Sources have always "merited anonymity" while releasing their names and addresses could lead to a "chill factor" among potential future informants, Judge Humphreys said.

Northern Ireland news