stark warning | 

Coroner rules that inquest into death of Noah Donohoe (14) will be held with a jury

Police ruled out foul play and Noah's family now hope to get answers to many questions they have surrounding the child's disappearance and death

Noah Donohoe

Neil FetherstonhaughSunday World

A coroner has ruled that an inquest into the death of 14-year-old Noah Donohoe will be held with a jury.

While a date for the inquest will be fixed in due course, the next preliminary hearing will be held on Friday, December 9.

Police ruled out foul play and Noah's family now hope to get answers to many questions they have surrounding the child's disappearance and death.

The St Malachy’s College pupil was found dead in a storm drain in North Belfast in June 2020, six days after going missing.

He disappeared while cycling from his South Belfast home to meet friends across the city.

During a preliminary hearing on Thursday, October 27, Coroner Joe McCrisken concluded that "it is desirable to have a jury sworn in this inquest".

He also issued a stark warning against the reporting of the inquest in a public forum, including social media. He urged that nothing should be reported that "may impinge on the ability of potential jurors to hear this case impartially".

He said: "It seems to me that there are a number of factors in this inquest which may it seems, potentially have a tendency to adversely affect the ability of the jury to be objective and impartial. They are as follows:

"The controversial nature of the inquest involving the death of a young Catholic boy, last seen in an area known to be predominantly Protestant/Loyalist area. The requirement for unanimous verdicts. The statutory anonymity of jurors (with the attendant difficulty of challenging for cause).

"The absence of effective safeguards against a perverse verdict. The persistent high-profile campaign for “Justice” and “A new, proper investigation” with flags, posters, protests and media interviews which implies the present investigation as deficient. The lack of any “fade factor” as described by authorities in relation to prejudice under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, if the inquest goes ahead as planned."

The Coroner said that in reaching his conclusion on the issue he took into account the very strongly held view of the Next of Kin that a jury should be summoned.

He also considered the widespread public concern about the circumstances in which the death occurred; the uncertainty surrounding the circumstances of the death; the precautions that can be taken to ensure that the jury comes to the case without bias or preconception; and the assistance that can be given to the jury to follow the evidence.

He added: "Having regard to these matters, notwithstanding my reservations and concerns I do not conclude that there is a “real risk” of a perverse conclusion or bias as per Stephens J in Jordan’s Applications. Therefore, on balance, I conclude that it is “desirable” to have a jury sworn in this inquest and I will exercise my discretion pursuant to section 18(2) of the 1959 Act.”

It was initially fixed that the full inquest would begin on November 28, 2022, however concerns regarding the timeline were raised again today.

Brenda Campbell QC, representing Ms Donohoe said: "We are gravely concerned that we wouldn't, in any event, be ready by the end of next month. Of course, given the realities of having this inquest with a jury, the possibility of achieving that within the time available, to us seems slim to non-existent.

"It is not desirable in a case like this, to take a break over the Christmas break."

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