Byrne: Police not trying to hide information on Noah

Police in Northern Ireland are not seeking to hide information about the disappearance of schoolboy Noah Donohoe, the Province’s police chief has said.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 4th March 2022, 7:55 am
Noah Donohoe's mother, Fiona.  

Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Noah Donohoe's mother, Fiona. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

However, Chief Constable Simon Byrne acknowledged a narrative suggesting the PSNI was attempting to conceal answers about Noah’s death was having reputational consequences for the police.

Mr Byrne’s comments came as the officer leading the investigation, Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan, said the claim police were bidding to stop relevant information being disclosed to Noah’s inquest “couldn’t be further from the truth”.

Mr McEwan was addressing the ongoing controversy over the prospect of police applying to redact parts of three sensitive files that are to be used in the forthcoming inquest.

Noah, a 14-year-old pupil at St Malachy’s College in Belfast, was found dead in a storm drain in the north of the city in June 2020, six days after he went missing.

Mr Byrne and Mr McEwan answered questions about the case at a meeting of the Policing Board in Belfast yesterday.

The questions were raised by Sinn Fein board member Gerry Kelly who said the PSNI’s handling of the case was turning into a “seminal moment” for the organisation, as he warned that its reputation was being battered.

“This is something which is doing massive damage to policing,” he said.

At the same meeting, Mr Byrne also addressed a recent furore around the PSNI pursuing Noah’s mother Fiona and her sister Niamh over potential Covid-19 rule breaches for their role in organising a memorial walk last year to retrace the schoolboy’s final known journey to Cavehill in the city.

This week officers dropped their original plan to interview the two women today after Mr Byrne asked for the investigation to be reviewed.

The police chief said the PSNI was seeking “legal advice” that he hoped would soon bring clarity on the status of the future of that investigation.

Noah’s family is hoping to secure answers to some of the questions surrounding his mysterious death through the ongoing inquest process, which is still in its preliminary stages.

A date for a full hearing as yet to be set.

His mother Fiona has raised concern about the prospect of the police making an application for public interest immunity (PII) certification to withhold from the inquest some information contained within the three sensitive police files.

She presented a petition at PSNI headquarters last week containing more than 280,000 signatures calling for the files to be released in full.

At the board meeting, Mr Byrne stressed that the PSNI had not yet decided to make a PII application.

But he emphasised that only a “small amount” of material was under consideration and stressed that PII was a “usual process” in many inquests.

“I know this is a difficult issue and we may be not getting our message across, but I want to reassure members and indeed the wider public we’re just not seeking to withhold any relevant information from the coroner and indeed Fiona,” he said.

Mr McEwan emphasised any information that was subject to any application would still be seen by the coroner as part of the PII process.

“There is a belief that we are seeking to remove those three files in their entirety and in some way keep them hidden from the family. This couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said.