Noah Donohoe inquest should be held with jury, coroner rules

A coroner has ruled that an inquest into the death of Belfast schoolboy Noah Donohoe should be held with a jury.

Noah, 14, was found dead in a storm drain in the city in June 2020 six days after he went missing as he cycled to meet up with friends.

Following the ruling by Coroner Joe McCrisken on Thursday, the inquest will not now proceed at the end of November as had been previously scheduled.

Noah Donohoe inquest
Fiona Donohoe had made an application for the inquest to be held with a jury (Mark Marlow/PA)

Noah’s mother Fiona Donohoe is hoping to secure answers to some of the questions surrounding the death of her son through the inquest process.

She had made the application to the coroner that the inquest should be held with a jury.

Mr McCrisken granted the application during a pre-inquest review hearing on Thursday.

Delivering his ruling, he said that while he did not believe it a case in which it was mandatory for him to swear a jury, he had considered his discretionary provision.

He said “It seems to me there are a number of factors in this inquest which may at least potentially have a tendency to adversely affect the ability of a jury to be objective and impartial.”

“Number one is the controversial nature of the inquest involving the death of a young Catholic boy last seen in an area known to be predominantly Protestant or loyalist.”

Another factor the coroner referred to was the “persistent commentary relating to the death of Noah Donohoe, particularly on social media”.

He said: “I do have some concerns regarding the potential for a perverse verdict in this inquest.

“I have taken into account the very strongly held view of the next of kin that a jury should be summoned, the widespread public concern about the circumstances in which the death of Noah Donohoe occurred.”Notwithstanding my reservations and concerns, I do not conclude there is a real risk of a perverse conclusion or bias.

“Therefore on balance I conclude that it is desirable to have a jury sworn in this inquest and I will exercise my discretion.”

Mr McCrisken added: “It is imperative now that nothing should be reported or said about this inquest in a public forum, which includes social media, that may impinge upon the ability of potential jurors to hear this case impartially and objectively.”

Following the ruling, counsel for the coroner Sean Doran KC said it seemed not desirable to proceed with the inquest on the scheduled date of November 28

Brenda Campbell KC, representing the Donohoe family, said: “We are gravely concerned we wouldn’t be ready by the end of next month.

“Given the realities of having this inquest with a jury, the possibility of achieving that in the time available seems to be slim to non-existent.”

Mr McCrisken adjourned the inquest from its November 28 start date.