The disappearance and death of 14 year old Belfast teenager Noah Donohoe in June 2020 continues to be the subject of investigation, and some mystery. There have been several preliminary inquests, and the formal inquest will be held in Belfast on January 10, 2022, where Noah’s mother Fiona and supporters hope that all aspects of Noah’s tragic end will be thoroughly examined.
As things stand, there is a comprehensive but incomplete timeline of Noah’s last hours, and accounts of the involvement of others in the disposal of some of his belongings. However, other claims in relation to his disappearance and death remain unsubstantiated.
On June 21 2020, Noah, who was a pupil at St. Malachy’s, left the home he shared with his mother close to Queen’s University off the Ormeau Road, south Belfast at 5.40 pm. He was to meet friends at Cave Hill Park which is just under seven miles away. He was said to be going there to meet them to discuss their plans to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh programme.
Noah had a backpack in which he carried his laptop and books including Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. There is extensive CCTV surveillance that operates across the city, but just 8 minutes and 42 seconds of film of Noah has been recovered. That evidence does however provide some insight into the time he left his home and the last time he was seen less than 30 minutes later.
At 5.49 pm Noah was seen cycling through Victoria Square in the city centre and one minute later at the corner of High Street and Victoria Avenue. He was fully clothed and did not appear distressed. However, three minutes later he was captured passing the Ulster University and his backpack is missing. It was discovered several days later leaning against one of the college buildings.
At 6pm he was seen by a driver falling off his bicycle but remounting and continuing on his journey and two minutes later at 6.02pm he was seen entering the Northwood Road estate without his backpack or jacket. Even more bizarrely, he was then seen by a woman cycling past her home naked at 6.08pm.
That was the last time anyone saw Noah alive and some two hours later his bike was found in the front garden of a house in Northwood estate, but none of his clothes have ever been discovered. On June 24, Daryl Paul, a criminal with almost 200 previous convictions, attempted to pawn the contents of Noah’s backpack. He was arrested and convicted of theft, but his account of how he found the bag, and that he had no personal contact with Noah, were accepted.
On June 27, Noah’s body was found in a storm drain behind Northwood Road. There have been questions raised about access to the drain which will presumably form part of the inquest. The post mortem ruled that Noah had died by drowning and that there was no evidence of assault or head trauma (as might have been expected had the fall from his bike caused him to behave erratically) and that the toxicology tests had been negative.
Noah’s phone had been discovered in a playground on North Queens Street several days after his body was found but it revealed no evidence of suspicious communications.
Over the past year, there have been a number of developments that have added to the mystery of what happened to Noah Donohoe. Certainly, the last descriptions of him, the fact that his clothes have never been discovered, and indeed why he had cycled into Northwood estate prior to ending up dead raise a whole series of questions.
Some of the speculation has been unhelpful, and the publication of a book on Noah’s death was condemned by his mother and described as both “against the wishes of our family” and that it had nothing to do with the campaign that has been organised to seek full closure on the tragedy.
Some of the speculation, as formed the centre of the book, has focused on a possible sectarian motive for the attack in the light of the fact that Noah’s last moments were spent in a part of the city where a Catholic schoolboy might certainly have been at risk. That has been compounded by a media report that a prisoner was supposed to have confessed to another inmate of his involvement in Noah’s death and a loyalist connection to the cover up of the circumstances.
The person who is said to have made the confession was interviewed on his release by an independent investigator who passed the transcript to the PSNI. However, the person in question was identified and contacted by the Sunday World and told them that his cellmate had made the whole thing up.
The PSNI stated in July following a meeting with Fiona Donohoe regarding the transcript, that: “While our investigation to date has not identified any evidence that supports the claims that have been made, we are committed to exhausting every investigative opportunity.” The family’s legal representative Niall Murphy has appealed for greater effort to uncover CCTV or other sighting evidence.
Murphy also referred to the possibility that someone in the “homeless community” around the public housing for persons with drug addiction problems around the Queen’s quarter on University Street might have knowledge of an anonymous report that Noah was assaulted in that area. This is close to where Noah lives and a good distance from where Noah was last seen after falling from his bicycle and without his clothes and backpack.
The trauma experienced by Noah’s mother and all those who knew him can only be imagined. For all of their sakes, it must be hoped that this will come to an end with as definitive as possible conclusion to the investigations, and that this takes place at the inquest in January.