Noah was missing for six days before his body was found in a storm drain in north Belfast in June 2020.
Now, it has emerged that senior PSNI officers turned down requests from police involved in investigating Noah’s disappearance and subsequent death to upgrade it to ‘critical incident’ status.
The Sunday World has been told that TWO requests were made to declare the investigation a critical incident.
For the mother of the dead schoolboy, Fiona Donohoe, it’s another major blow to her confidence in the police. She has consistently questioned and criticised the investigation and has lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s office.
In a statement to the Sunday World, Fiona Donohoe expressed her disappointment and went on to say: “I am horrified to learn that senior police had such a callous disregard for my son’s life. I am grateful that police officers had identified the need for critical incident status.
“I cannot fathom how a child’s disappearance could not be considered to be critical. Time is critical, especially in those first 48 hours and we now fear what resources were denied to the search for Noah at what would have been a critical stage.
“We fear that forensic opportunities were missed by virtue of critical strategic decisions not having been taken appropriately in those first 48 hours, for example, should the public have been permitted to attend the location of Noah’s last movements.”
A spokesman for the PSNI said no one would be available to answer our questions but issued a short statement which said: “The disappearance and death of Noah Donohoe is subject to an ongoing coronial investigation.
“The PSNI continue to investigate under their Police (NI) Act 2000 duty but also provide assistance to the Coroner so it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
The Donohoe family and their supporters protested outside police headquarters at Knock in Belfast to challenge a PSNI plan to limit disclosure of evidence it has gathered at the inquest into Noah’s death.
This followed a comment by Assistant Chief Constable [ACC] Bobby Singleton at a preliminary hearing of the inquest in December last year in which he said the PSNI would likely request a Public Interest Immunity certificate [PII] on what he went on to describe as a limited amount of material contained in a number of evidence folders.
This prompted the protest at police headquarters at which supporters of the family handed in a petition demanding full disclosure at the inquest.
At the time, Fiona Donohoe said: “Whatever it says, for Noah, we need to know – we’re not going to give up. We will try everything to stop this public interest immunity going forward,” she said.
Now they will want to learn more about why the investigation into Noah’s disappearance and death was not given ‘critical incident’ status. It will be added to their list of grievances over what they see as a flawed police investigation.
In previous statements, the PSNI have defended their actions by pointing out that they carried out a significant search operation with local and specialist officers – with specialist dog units, the police air support unit with help from community search and rescue officers, and the public.
They also mentioned that a silver control room was set up to monitor and manage what they described as “the resource intensive operation to find Noah”.
Northern Ireland has its own policing college to deliver training and development of the PSNI but it has close links to the College of Policing set up by the United Kingdom government as the official source of professional practice for policing.
On its website, the College of Policing has this to say about the thinking behind the declaration of a ‘critical incident’: “Management of a critical incident [CI] should start with early identification and notification. It is particularly important that small-scale CI’s are identified early, as even these can have a long-term impact of community confidence if left unchecked.”
It goes on to say particular attention must be paid to the needs of “the victim, their family and the community.”
It says that continuous monitoring CI’s makes sure resources are used effectively and appropriately and post-incident evaluation can provide positive learning outcomes for the future.
The College of Policing says designated senior officers notified that an incident has the potential to become a critical incident must decide what action to take based on the following criteria:
*if the recommendation for critical incident status is valid;
*if current deployment will deliver an effective response;
*if the incident should be escalated further and/or declared a critical incident;
But tellingly, the College of Policing goes on to state: “The decision to declare an incident as critical should be based on at least one objective reason why the effectiveness of the police response is likely to have a significant impact on the confidence of the victim, their family or the community.”
The Donohoe family believe they have been failed by the PSNI which has resulted in their lack of confidence on behalf of the victim – Noah – as well as the wider family and the community in North Belfast.