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Missing jacket may provide key evidence as police explore possibility teen was assaulted before death

Family solicitor Niall Murphy told coroner Joe McCrisken that there is “reason to believe” individuals with addiction issues and/or within the homeless community have “specific knowledge” of the assault.

Inquest: Noah Donohoe

Patricia Devlin

THE recovery of a missing coat belonging to teenager Noah Donohoe could help police in a new line of inquiry that the schoolboy was assaulted before his tragic death.

On Monday, Belfast coroner’s court heard how a witness had recently came forward to claim the 14-year-old was attacked as he cycled through Belfast city centre on the day he went missing.

The significant statement was revealed by Donohoe family solicitor Niall Murphy, who told coroner Joe McCrisken that there is “reason to believe” individuals with addiction issues and/or within the homeless community have “specific knowledge” of the assault.

It’s understood that part of that new line of inquiry will look at whether the St Malachy’s College pupil, whose body was found in a north Belfast storm drain last June, may have been attacked in a bid to rob him as he cycled alone.

Noah became separated from his belongings, including his laptop, schoolbooks, phone and clothing, along the last part of his journey.

Most of these were recovered in the days following his disappearance, however, his green North Face jacket has never been found and has been the subject of conflicting reports.

Initially, it had been reported that eyewitnesses had seen Noah’s jacket on the roadside after he stumbled from his bike in the vicinity of North Queen Street and York Street area just minutes before he was last seen alive.

But in November, a court heard that a man accused of stealing the schoolboy’s rucksack containing his laptop and schoolbooks, had also been in possession of the jacket.

Belfast Magistrates Court heard how three days into a widespread search operation for the 14 year-old, an anonymous caller contacted police to claim that Daryl Paul was in possession of the boy’s bag, laptop, books and coat.

At a High Court bail hearing earlier this month, a Crown prosecutor revealed that after failing to cash in Noah’s laptop at a city centre Cash Convertors store, Paul had tried once again to sell the computer at a party.

The prosecutor said the caller claimed that the 33-year-old accused had attempted to sell the laptop directly to them at the gathering.

The following day, police forced their way into Paul’s flat and recovered the rucksack and schoolbooks with Noah’s name on them, the court heard.

His laptop was later recovered by officers in the Queen’s Quarter Housing hostel room of Maria Nolan, who had accompanied Paul to the Cash Convertors store the day previous.

The 28-year-old west Belfast woman, who said she did not know who owned the laptop, was questioned by police but released without charge.

Paul claims to have found Noah’s bag propped up against a wall close to the former Art College, now the Ulster University, at York Street.

It’s understood the Donohoe family were first made aware of the claims Paul was in possession of Noah’s coat through media coverage of his appearances in court.

It led to Noah’s mum Fiona being forced to put out her own appeal on social media for anyone with information on her son’s jacket to come forward.

Writing on Facebook earlier this month, Fiona said: “Please can I be contacted by anyone who can give me facts on Noah’s Green North Face jacket. Even if you have told someone else the same info.

“The tiniest detail counts so that we can rule out #FactFromFiction”.

Fiona later wrote on Twitter that three “eyewitnesses” had spotted Noah’s coat at the road side but added: “yet 2 people still place it 2/3 days after in rucksack with stolen laptop... rucksack and jacket along Noah’s journey were quite a distance apart”.

The jacket is one of a number of items of clothing belonging to the teenager which have never been found, including his grey Primark shorts and white underwear.

Noah’s black crash helmet, Nike trainers, bicycle, hoodie, mobile phone were all recovered in the north Belfast area in the days following his disappearance.

Last week solicitor Niall Murphy told Belfast coroner’s court that a statement provided to police claims that Noah was the victim of an assault as he rode his bike through Belfast city centre on Sunday, June 21, the day he went missing.

The lawyer said: “We have reason to believe that there is a particular and specific knowledge of this assault in the homeless community and with those struggling with addiction issues, both in the city centre and also from people who were residents at Queen’s Quarter housing association in University Street, specifically people resident there in June.

“The court will be aware that Noah lived metres away from Queen’s Quarter on the day he went missing.

“We appeal for businesses on Royal Avenue between the junction of the bottom Royal Avenue and North Street and the Belfast Telegraph building to review their CCTV for 21 June 2020 and make this available to police.

“We also make a very specific appeal for the people with relevant photographs stored in their phones to voluntarily present themselves and their phones to police to enable police to forensically download the photos to verify the times and locations that the photos were taken.”

Mr Murphy added that those who could help were “not under suspicion” adding: “ have done nothing wrong and you will get your phone back. Please help Fiona find out what happened to her son.”

During the short hearing, a date for a full inquest was fixed for January 2022.

Speaking outside court, Fiona described Mr Murphy’s statement as “the significant part of today” and appealed for anyone with information to come forward.

Battling for the truth: Fiona Donohoe

Sister Niamh added: “We feel like there has been progress made today. A weight is lifted.”

For the last 30 weeks, the family have been campaigning tirelessly for answers surrounding Noah’s mysterious disappearance and death.

The schoolboy went missing while on a bike ride across the city to meet friends in Cavehill Country Park.

He had left his south Belfast home – situated metres away from Queen’s Quarter Housing hostel where his laptop was later recovered – shortly after 5.30pm.

He was picked up on just 22 of an estimated 180 CCTV cameras dotted along his final route, with the last known sighting of the boy unclothed in the Northwood Road area.

Noah’s bike was found at around 8pm that evening by Karen Crooks outside her Northwood Road home.

The upcoming inquest into the teenager’s death is expected to answer the many unanswered questions his family say surround his disappearance and death.

One of the police’s early theories was that Noah sustained a head injury in the fall from his bike, causing him to become disorientated and enter the drain.

A post-mortem later concluded the cause of death to be drowning, and that he had not suffered a head injury.

The Donohoe family said the results of the post-mortem gave rise to more questions than answers.

Their fight for answers has received support from around the world, with banners and tributes to Noah appearing across Northern Ireland and beyond.

The ‘My Noah’ social media accounts set up by the Donohoes have over 120,000 followers.

Earlier this month, thousands of people took part in a car convoy through the streets of Belfast in support of the campaign.

The ‘Noah’s Army’ cavalcade ended at the gates of Stormont where Fiona Donohoe tied a blue ribbon and touching poem to the railings.

Speaking to the media afterwards, Fiona said: “ “This is only one part of the journey to Stormont for justice and answers, and we will get them.

“This is the start of a new year but not the end of our journey and we are going to keep going, because there is more than this.

“(We want) the truth... we want answers. If I knew the truth I wouldn’t be standing here. All I want is for a thorough investigation for my son, for every child in Northern Ireland. “

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