By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
An inquest into the death of Belfast teenager Noah Donohoe is to be delayed after his family raised concerns about the timescale to resolve “serious issues which remain outstanding”.
The 14-year-old pupil at St Malachy’s College was found dead in a storm drain in north Belfast in June last year, six days after he went missing.
A barrister for his mother Fiona told a preliminary hearing that the inquest into the death of the schoolboy was one of the most “controversial and mysterious that this jurisdiction has encountered”.
The inquest had originally been scheduled to begin on January 10 next year.
The hearing also heard that a detective chief superintendent from an outside police force last week visited Northern Ireland to review the original PSNI investigation into Noah’s death.
Barrister for the police Donal Lunny QC described it as a “peer support exercise”.
He added: “It involves a detective chief superintendent from an external force coming in.
“That other officer was here on October 25, 26 and 27 and had access to both the investigation team and the documents in relation to the investigation.
“I understand the purpose of that exercise is to provide an independent view on the direction and the depth and the conclusions of the original investigation, and to identify any further steps that the PSNI might take.”
Mr Lunny said the report from the external officer was expected to be with the PSNI by the end of November.
Brenda Campbell QC, representing Noah’s mother, made the submission to delay the inquest.
She said: “There are eight working weeks before this inquest is due to commence and it is no overstatement to say that this is one of the most sensitive and, in some respects, controversial and mysterious inquests that this jurisdiction has encountered.
“There are a huge number of questions that Miss Donohoe has in relation to what happened to her son. There is a huge expectation from these proceedings that we will endeavour to answer some of those questions.
“But we have eight weeks to resolve some very serious issues which remain outstanding.
“Any delay impacts Fiona Donohoe most of all because of the anxiety surrounding the death of her son and these inquest proceedings she is putting so much store in, because it is her primary, perhaps even her only, opportunity to understand how it is her son left home on a Sunday afternoon to be found six days later dead in the circumstances we know so clearly.
“Within the next eight weeks there is a huge amount of work to be undertaken and it is just not feasible we will have completed.”
Ms Campbell said the family had concerns over being given time to consider three expert reports which they received this week.
She raised further concerns over an ongoing PSNI investigation into access to the storm drain where Noah’s body was found, which is owned by the Department of Infrastructure. She said the outcome of this could be relevant to the inquest proceedings.
She further stated the family would need time to consider the findings of the external review into the PSNI investigation and raised concerns that the disclosure of police documents relating to the case was still not completed.
She said: “The last thing that any of us want is to get to the end of these inquest proceedings with more questions than there are answers, and the reality is that is where we fear, on behalf of Fiona Donohoe, that we are heading at the moment.
“We are simply not going to be ready by January 10th. Any inquest date that is fast approaching in the new year comes with a huge amount of anxiety for the family and we would much rather know that we have more time to resolve these issues.”
Ms Campbell added: “Noah’s death is something our community has taken ownership of in many respects.
“There is a balance to be struck and at the moment the balance is not in favour of proceeding in January. But, equally, I don’t say let’s leave it until late 2022 or even early 2023, the request is to give us time, no more time than is necessary, but sufficient time.”
Coroner Joe McCrisken accepted the submissions. He said he would leave the matter of rescheduling the inquest until the next preliminary hearing on December 8th.