Inquest into death of Belfast teen Noah Donohoe ‘may need to be delayed’

Coroner Joe McCrisken said he had been written to by two English MPs encouraging him to hold the inquest earlier than January.
Inquest into death of Belfast teen Noah Donohoe ‘may need to be delayed’

By Jonathan McCambridge, PA

An inquest into the death of Belfast schoolboy Noah Donohoe may need to be delayed until “all lines of inquiry have been pursued”, his family’s legal representatives have said.

The issue was raised during a pre-inquest review hearing, when coroner Joe McCrisken said he had been written to by two English MPs encouraging him to hold the inquest earlier than its scheduled date of January 10th, 2022.

In response, lawyers for Noah’s mother, Fiona Donohoe, said the January date was “ambitious” and raised concern over witnesses who have still not been identified.

Noah, a pupil at St Malachy’s College, was found dead in a storm drain in north Belfast last June, six days after he went missing.

The disappearance of the 14-year-old prompted a huge search operation involving hundreds of volunteers from the community in north Belfast and beyond.

Noah had cycled from his south Belfast home through the city centre, before entering the storm drain. He had been due to meet friends.

At the pre-inquest hearing on Friday, issues around disclosure, scope of the hearing and timing were discussed.

Noah Donohoe death
Noah Donohoe’s mother, Fiona Donohoe. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Mr McCrisken asked Niall Murphy, solicitor for the Donohoe family: “There is one question I want to ask in terms of the commencement date of the inquest hearing on January 10th, 2022 – is that still suitable?

“I was written to this week by two English MPs who encouraged me to hold the inquest much more quickly than January 10th.”

Mr Murphy said: “I am completely unaware of who has sent that correspondence but in respect of Ms Donohoe’s expectations of the inquest it can only commence when it is ready. It is not ready and is not anywhere near.

“I am happy to place on the record my view that January 10th is somewhat ambitious but we need a date to work towards. We will be as ready as possible as soon as possible.”

Lines of inquiry

Barrister for the Donohoe family, Brenda Campbell QC, added: “It is very much the focus of Noah’s family, and his mother in particular, to ensure that all lines of inquiry have been pursued, are being pursued.

“It is very much our view that this ought to be an ongoing inquiry and there are a number of lines of inquiry which we will be raising in correspondence. There is a desire on the part of the family to be satisfied that the PSNI investigation has been thorough.

“Even within the papers that we have there are references to witnesses who appear not to have been identified.”

Ms Campbell added: “I think it is our view that January 10th does appear to be optimistic, and rather than bringing the hearing forward it may well be that there is an application to push it back by two months or a little bit more, in order to accommodate all of the lines of inquiry that need to be bottomed out.”

Counsel for the coroner, Sean Doran QC, said: “I think there is always a risk if any suggestion of slippage is made, that perhaps work has a tendency to slow down. We are working towards ensuring that the inquest starts on the date which it is currently listed.”

Mr McCrisken said: “As far as I am concerned this inquest is starting on January 10th, 2022. That is the date we will be calling witnesses, unless I am asked to do otherwise.”

Another pre-inquest review will be held on June 30th.

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