By David Young and Rebecca Black, PA
Prosecutors are to review a decision not to prosecute a Stormont department in relation to the death of a schoolboy found dead in one of its drains.
Noah Donohoe, 14, was found dead in a storm drain in Belfast in June 2020 six days after he went missing as he cycled across the city to meet up with friends.
Last year, police launched an investigation into suspected corporate manslaughter in relation to how the Department of Infrastructure managed access to the drain network.
The circumstances of the teenager’s mysterious disappearance and death are due to be examined by an inquest later this year.
Police have ruled out foul play in the death but did pass a file to Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service to assess whether there was sufficient evidence to pursue a corporate manslaughter change against the department.
A preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast on Thursday was told that the PPS has decided not to pursue charges against the department.
However, coroner Joe McCrisken was also informed, the PPS has now agreed to review that decision.
Brenda Campbell KC, representing the Donohoe family, told the coroner: “We understand from information from the PPS today that senior counsel has been instructed to undertake a further review, that a site inspection has very recently taken place and that it is anticipated that advice will be received within a four to six week timeframe.”
After the hearing, the PPS confirmed the development.
PPS assistant director Roger Davison said: “The PPS received an investigation file from police in February 2022 reporting the Department for Infrastructure in relation to the accessibility of the storm drain in which the body of Noah Donohoe was found in June 2020.
“The file reported the Department for Infrastructure for a decision as to prosecution in relation to a potential offence of corporate manslaughter.
“All the evidence and information in this file was carefully considered by a senior public prosecutor.
“As part of our considerations, we engaged closely with police and with the Health and Safety Executive.
“It was determined that the evidence was insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction in court for any offence and therefore the Test for Prosecution was not met.
“We wrote to Noah’s mother Fiona Donohoe in June 2022 to explain the detailed reasons for this decision and assured her that it was taken only after the most careful consideration of all the evidence and circumstances of the case.
“We subsequently received a request to review the decision not to prosecute and this is being carried out in line with the procedure set out in the PPS Code for Prosecutors.”
It is understood the request to review the decision was made by Ms Donohoe’s legal team.
The inquest is due to commence at the end of November and sit for three weeks.
At Thursday’s preliminary hearing, Ms Campbell formally asked for the inquest start date to be pushed back as she expressed concern there was insufficient time to prepare for the hearing.
She claimed not enough progress had has been made disclosing police files to the next of kin in recent months.
The barrister also contended that a three-week hearing was not enough time to properly explore all the issues involved in the case.
She said the family did want the inquest to be “rushed”.
“It’s an application that’s made reluctantly, but far better from Noah’s mother’s perspective to have a properly prepared inquest with sufficient time than to rush towards one that’s not prepared and that doesn’t have sufficient time in the court day or court week to hear the evidence that needs to be heard,” she said.
On Thursday, Ms Campbell also made a formal application for the case to be heard by a jury.
Mr McCrisken said he would make rulings on how the case will proceed in 14 days.