Family slam State decision to sign off cert withholding information in Noah Donohoe case 

A public interest immunity certificate on information relating to the death of Belfast teenager Noah Donohoe has been signed off on by the newly appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara.

News of the signing of the PII certificate has triggered public backlash in Northern Ireland and beyond since it emerged yesterday, and follows a long-running campaign advocating against the use of the PII certification.

A public-interest immunity is a principle under which courts can grant a court order allowing one litigant to refrain from disclosing evidence to the other litigants where disclosure would be damaging to the public interest. This is an exception to the usual rule that all parties in litigation must disclose any evidence that is relevant to the proceedings.

PII orders have previously been used in criminal law against large organised criminal outfits and drug dealers where the identity of paid police informants could be at risk.

Responding to the development, Noah’s mother Fiona Donohoe questioned how the new Secretary of State would have had sufficient time to read the information and make an informed decision – as she criticised Vara for “holding back information” from the family and the public. 

“I would imagine if I sat face to face with [Shailesh Vara] he would not know anything on facts on beautiful Noah’s case,” she said on Twitter.

In a statement, Noah’s aunt and Fiona Donohoe’s sister, Niamh Donohoe, slammed the “corruption, negliegence, incompetence [and] deceit” which she says has plagued the investigation into her nephew’s tragic death. She said that the final decision regarding whether an PII certificate is used will be left to Coroner Joe McCrisken. Ms Donohoe added that the family “fully intends” to challenge the process at every available opportunity and to “exhaust” every legal recourse available going forward.

Noah’s naked body was found in a storm drain in north Belfast in June 2020, six days after he was reported missing from his home in the holylands area of the city after cycling to meet up with friends at Cavehill. It raised questions around the initial PSNI operation, and – as reported by Gript’s Dr. Matt Treacy – many unanswered questions remain around the youngster’s death.

In February, more than 300,000 people signed a widely circulated petition on the platform calling for the release of all files related to the death of Noah, while multiple MLAs wrote to the PSNI airing concerns about the use of the certification to withhold information relating to the teenager’s death.

Fiona Donohoe, urging people to sign the petition against the use of the certification, said that, if granted, the police would be able to hide four key files in the investigation into the death of the St. Malachy’s pupil. She insisted a rejection of the certification was needed to ensure that her son gets the justice he deserves, and to “place transparency and accountability where it should rightly be.”

“Such a certificate is only used in exceptional circumstances and rarely used in the case of a missing child. This certificate has been brought into play in cases where Police intelligence, informers or paramilitaries are involved,” she said in February, adding:

“I believe that someone harmed my Noah and that there have been serious and repeated failings in the Police investigation of his death. I will never get Justice for Noah if I do not get all the information. These four files are vital for us to get the truth we desperately need, to find out what really happened to my precious son.”

In a statement released on Twitter on Thursday, Noah’s aunt Niamh Donohoe urged people to “fight back” against the decision.

“We URGENTLY request that anyone with a public or political platform please call out against the barbaric abuse of power from the New secretary of state for NI @ShaileshVara, @ChiefConPSNI & the Coroner Joe McCrisken,” she tweeted.

“These men are preventing vital info & intelligence regarding the death of our beautiful Noah reaching not only us, our legal team but also the good public.”

She described the PII certificate as a “gagging order” and pointed to the “abuse” of the certification in the harrowing case of murdered teenager Arlene Arkinson.

“We need people to fight back against this. Flood your social media with this info…get angry!!!! No one’s children are safe if this is allowed to happen again. A child’s life means nothing to these people. We must stand united and demand these signatures be removed and all evidence, files [and] intelligence be fully disclosed to us &  our legal team,” she added.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office said the Secretary of State carefully considered the PII application having been fully briefed by officials. He did however add that they “do not comment on ongoing coronial proceedings”. 

While in a statement released on Thursday, Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan commented: “The  Police Service of Northern Ireland submitted an application for Public Interest Immunity (PII) to the Secretary of State in June 2022.

“As always, the Coroner will continue to have full sight of all material in this case and he will have the final decision on PII.”

In March, the case was raised in the Dáil by Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD.

Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Tóibín said: “Noah Donohoe was a bright, happy 14-year-old boy with a loving mother. He went missing on the 21st of June, 2020.

“Shockingly and tragically he was found dead in a storm drain in Belfast some days later. Since that time, his family has had no answers about the circumstances surrounding his death.

“The PSNI have actively sought to withhold information surrounding his death and have instead put more effort into questioning and potentially prosecuting his mother for holding a memorial walk.

“The PSNI seek a Public Interest Immunity certificate. These certificates have traditionally been used by the authorities to protect the identity of informants in paramilitaries.

“Over 280,000 people signed a petition collected by Noah’s mam, Fiona, calling on the files to be released.

“Taoiseach will you bring pressure on the Northern Secretary to ensure the release of these files, and get justice for Noah?” he asked.

In response, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told Deputy Tóibín that he would follow up the matter. 

The inquest into the death of the “intelligent and gentle” 14-year-old is set to begin on 28 November. 

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