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'Huge questions' Noah Donohoe inquest delayed as police complaint made by family of Belfast teen

The 14-year-old pupil at St Malachy’s College was discovered dead in a storm drain in north Belfast in June last year, six days after going missing.

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Fiona Donohoe with son Noah

Fiona Donohoe with son Noah

Fiona Donohoe with son Noah

A coroner has said an inquest into the death of Belfast schoolboy Noah Donohoe will not take place in January as scheduled.

The 14-year-old pupil at St Malachy’s College was discovered dead in a storm drain in north Belfast in June last year, six days after going missing.

At a pre-inquest hearing on Wednesday, Joe McCrisken heard that several delays meant it would not be possible to begin the inquest on time.

This included uncertainty over when the Police Ombudsman can deal with a complaint from the Donohoe family over the initial PSNI investigation.

Appearing on behalf of the coroner, Sean Doran QC said the Ombudsman was unable to provide any guarantee of when the report could be completed other than it was likely to take some time.

The court also heard that the Department for Infrastructure had carried out an investigation into storm drains and was expected to update the PSNI this week.

Another factor was the disclosure last month of four police files containing potentially sensitive materials, requiring assessment as to whether they should be redacted under Public Interest Immunity (PII).

A barrister representing the PSNI, Donal Lunny, told the court that an independent review of the PSNI investigation had been completed by a Detective Chief Superintendent from another force last month.

The peer support exercise saw the detective granted access to police files and the investigating team.

This was to allow the detective to give an independent view of the investigation and suggest any further steps.

The coroner was advised the report will be available before the end of the month.

Reports from an environmental expert, psychologist and psychiatrist have also been submitted to the court.

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Brenda Campbell, a barrister representing Noah’s mother Fiona, told the court that it was simply not possible to begin the inquest in January.

She said there were “huge questions” to be answered for Ms Donohoe about what happened to her son, and the inquest could be her only opportunity for answers.

Ms Campbell said she did not take the decision to postpone lightly, especially given the added anxiety it caused for the family.

While waiting for the Police Ombudsman investigation to conclude, she said the family also did not want to rule out hearing the inquest in the forseeable future.

At a preliminary inquest hearing in September, the coroner said he had found no evidence in support of a claim by a serving prisoner who said he had murdered the schoolboy.

Mr McCrisken said at the time that police had thoroughly investigated a report from a prisoner, who alleged his cellmate confessed to the crime.

The court had also heard how Noah’s mother Fiona had filed the complaint with the Police Ombudsman over the PSNI investigation.

Among her concerns were that police had ruled out foul play in her son’s death too quickly, inadequately investigated claims he was assaulted and that evidence including CCTV footage had been mismanaged.

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