A decision on whether to withhold police material from an inquest into the death of Belfast schoolboy Noah Donohoe will be taken with complete independence and integrity, a coroner said.
Supreme Court Justice Mr Justice Michael Humphreys said he was aware of the level of controversy sparked by the Government-backed request for public interest immunity (PII) by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). .
Judge Humphreys, the chief coroner for Northern Ireland, made the comments in open court ahead of a closed-door hearing on the PSNI’s PII bid to redact certain sensitive material from investigative files, which will form part of November’s inquest into the teenager’s death.
The PSNI argues that disclosure of the information, which details police methods and how sources are handled, would harm national security interests.
Noah, 14, a student 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.
He disappeared while cycling from his home in south Belfast to meet up with friends across the city. The police exclude third-party debt.
Noah’s mother, Fiona Donohoe, is seeking answers to some of the questions surrounding her son’s mysterious disappearance and death through the inquest.
She has campaigned for full declassification of police files and has garnered significant public support.
A petition against the PII bid has garnered more than 300,000 signatures as supporters of the Donohoe family protested in Belfast city center last month.
In order to submit a PII request to the coroner, the PSNI first needed approval from a government minister.
Northern Ireland Minister Shailesh Vara signed the document in July in a move that drew criticism from opponents of the PII offer.
The November inquest will be heard by Coroner Joe McCrisken.
The PII process is handled separately by Justice Humphreys.
The PII closed hearing took place in Belfast yesterday, with a decision expected next week.
In a long open hearing, the coroner said the strength of public opinion could not be ignored but he would make his decision independently.
Judge Humphreys said there was nothing “spooky” about the fact that PII hearings are private. He said there was a need to examine the material at the heart of the application.
“I would also like to stress that the decision will ultimately be made by an independent judicial officer,” he added. “The decision here is made with absolute independence and integrity.”
The PII request relates to material in three separate police files to be used during the investigation.
PSNI representative Donal Lunny QC told the court the redactions were not excessive and mainly related to reference numbers, classification of intelligence information, information on sources and details of police methodology.
He insisted there was a “real risk” to the national interest if the material was disclosed in open court.
Attachments attached to the PII document signed by Mr. Vara relate to attacks by dissident Republicans in recent years.
Mr Lunny told the court information was relevant because disclosure of police methods could directly benefit terrorist groups in Northern Ireland.
Brenda Campbell QC, representing the Donohoe family, questioned why national security issues are involved in a case involving the death of a child.
“We have to keep in mind that the death of a 14-year-old child is at the heart of this investigation,” she said.
“A bright, talented and popular boy with a zest for life. Who was loved and loved and impressed everyone who knew him and this child left home on a bright Sunday afternoon in June 2020 and whose naked body was found face down in a gully six days later.
“The focus of this investigation is a grieving mother and family who need to understand how and why Noah died.
“Withholding material that can safely be disclosed will undoubtedly do more harm than good and further erode public confidence in the administration of justice.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/coroner-to-rule-next-week-on-police-bid-to-withhold-details-from-schoolboy-noah-donohoe-inquest-41954836.html The coroner will rule next week on police orders to withhold details from the investigation into schoolboy Noah Donohoe