‘No evidence’ to suggest anyone else involved in Noah Donohoe death – coroner
There is currently “no evidence” to suggest that any other person was involved in the death of Belfast teenager Noah Donohoe, a court has heard.
Coroner Joe McCrisken told a preliminary inquest into the death of the schoolboy that he wanted to set out “fact against fiction” in order to “dispel the many baseless and inaccurate rumours which continue to circulate”.
The 14-year-old was found dead in a storm drain near the M2 motorway in June, six days after he went missing in north Belfast.
Police believe he entered the drain in the Northwood Road area of north Belfast.
He had cycled to the area from his home in south Belfast and, shortly before he went missing, was seen with no clothes on. Prior to that he was seen falling off his bike in Shore Road.
His disappearance prompted a major search operation, with hundreds of people from across Belfast involved.
Noah’s mother Fiona and aunt Niamh attended the second preliminary inquest hearing at Belfast Coroner’s Court on Friday.
At the last hearing in July the coroner urged an end to speculation about Noah’s death.
On Friday, he expressed regret that “some individuals have chosen not to respect my request and the request of the family and rumours, speculation and conspiracy theories continue to be circulated”.
“Today, in conjunction with the police and my counsel, I am providing some details which will dispel the many baseless and inaccurate rumours which continue to circulate,” he said.
“Today I will set fact against fiction.”
The coroner said police have compiled video footage which covers Noah’s journey from his home off the Ormeau Road to Northwood Road.
“To me, it seems likely that Noah entered the storm drain to the rear of 85 Northwood Road by lifting a metal drain cover, which at that time was not secured,” said Mr McCrisken.
“I have examined the drain cover, as have police officers, and it seems entirely possible for Noah to have been able to lift that cover and enter the drain system at that location.”
The coroner described the drain as running underground from Northwood Road to Shore Road to Seaview, under an access road at a Translink cleaning facility, under the M2 motorway before discharging close to Duncrue Road.
“Noah’s body was found by specially trained police officers between two drain access points within a section of the tunnel running under the Translink access road,” said Mr McCrisken.
“The environment within the drain system can be described as challenging, with the drain system backfilling with water during intervals between low and high tides.
“I consider that, based upon all of the evidence before me at this stage, and the evidence includes extensive CCTV footage and witness statements, that Noah acted alone when he travelled to Northwood Road and entered the drain system.
“Investigations however are ongoing and I have reassured the family this morning that further evidence will be assessed as it is received.
“But that is my preliminary view based upon the evidence that is before me presently.
“At present there is no evidence linking Noah’s death to the death of any other individual or with an attack on any other individual or individuals in that area or in close proximity to Northwood Road.
“There is no evidence at present to suggest that any other person was involved in Noah’s disappearance and death.”
He added that the police team charged with investigating Noah’s death continue to gather evidence, and that he is awaiting the full post-mortem examination report and findings, along with further forensic evidence.
Solicitor Niall Murphy, representing the family, said Ms Donohoe had watched the compilation of nine minutes of CCTV footage of her son’s last movements.
“While this nine minutes represented the most harrowing experience of Fiona Donohoe’s life, to view the last recorded moments of Noah, she is appreciative of having had the opportunity to do so,” he said.
He added that Ms Donohoe wishes to express gratitude to businesses, public authorities and residents who volunteered the footage.
“No warrants were required to obtain any of it.
“Fiona acknowledges that the compilation is not a constant continuous video track of Noah’s movements and notes that there are blind spots in the journey, particularly, and perhaps most relevant, the sensitive part of the journey from Skegoneill Avenue to his final sighted destination.
“Fiona accepts and respects that this is an ongoing investigation and she hopes and prays that the vacuum that currently exists from 1801 onwards will be filled.
“And again she appeals to the residents to exhaust their memories and CCTV if any is still held to help complete the evidential picture.”
Ms Donohoe recently started an awareness campaign in her quest to get answers around what happened to her son, which was supported by several councils, including Belfast where City Hall was lit up blue in the teenager’s memory.
“Fiona again seeks to thank the wider community for how they have taken Noah to their hearts; the acts of civic solidarity and sympathy by local councils in Belfast, Lisburn, Strabane and further afield have been of immense comfort,” Mr Murphy said.
“Fiona wants Noah’s name to survive as a testament to the qualities he possessed as a vibrant and intelligent young boy.
“Fiona is working to harness the good will to ensure an enduring and fitting legacy to her beautiful son and hopes to be in a position to present that in the future.”
A further preliminary hearing is scheduled for November 2.
A full inquest is due to be heard on January 18 next year.