By David Young, PA
Police have defended a bid to prevent certain information being disclosed to the inquest into the death of schoolboy Noah Donohoe.
Noah’s mother Fiona has criticised the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s attempt to secure Public Interest Immunity (PII) certification on sensitive material that would otherwise be provided to her and other parties involved in the inquest proceedings.
Noah, a 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.
His mother is hoping to secure answers to some of the unanswered questions surrounding his death through the inquest process.
She has also lodged a complaint with the PSNI watchdog, the NI Police Ombudsman, alleging failings in how officers investigated her son’s disappearance and death.
At a pre-inquest review hearing before coroner Joe McCrisken on Wednesday, a lawyer representing the police insisted a PII application is not an unusual occurrence and is a common feature of many inquests.
Donal Lunny QC said police would likely be seeking PII on a “limited amount” of material in three police evidence folders.
“It is important to remember that PII applications are a not infrequent occurrence in inquests of all types and they occur for various reasons, including most commonly to protect police methodology,” he told Mr McCrisken.
“And it is ultimately going to be a matter for you sir, rather than my client, whether any PII application succeeds.”
A PII application by the police needs the prior approval of Chief Constable Simon Byrne and the Government.
The relevant material will be circulated to the parties in the inquest in redacted form before a hearing at which the coroner will take submissions on whether he should grant the immunity status.
Counsel for the coroner Sean Doran QC said it is difficult for parties to speculate over the PII process until the redacted material has been circulated.
“It’s very important that all properly interested persons on receipt of the redacted materials should have the opportunity of considering them carefully,” he said.
Mr Doran said all parties will then have the opportunity to make representations on the issue in open court.
The inquest had originally been scheduled to commence on January 10th.
That date was vacated last month due to various outstanding issues, including with the disclosure process and the ongoing Ombudsman’s probe.
The coroner told Wednesday’s virtual hearing that it has not yet been possible to identify an alternative date for the inquest due to the pressures on courtroom space.
The next pre-inquest review is due to take place in February.