A woman involved in a failed bid to trade-in schoolboy Noah Donohoe’s laptop for money to buy drugs has avoided being sent to prison.
Maria Nolan received a three-month suspended sentence for having the computer stored at her hostel room as searches for the teenager continued across Belfast.
The 30-year-old, who denied knowing that it belonged to Noah, was convicted of handling stolen goods.
In January last year Daryl Paul, 35, was jailed for stealing a rucksack containing the laptop and school books belonging to 14-year-old Noah.
But District Judge Anne Marshall drew a distinction between the past offending of the two co-accused.
She told Nolan: “I’m also aware his record is much worse than yours, which is why I have taken the decision to suspend your (sentence), even though you did contest the matter.”
Noah was found dead in a north Belfast storm drain in June 2020, nearly a week after he went missing.
Paul had taken the bag and its contents home with him after discovering them in Belfast on the day that the St Malachy’s College pupil vanished.
Days later he entered a Cash Converters in the city centre with Nolan and attempted to sell the computer.
Suspicious staff refused any trade and alerted the PSNI, who forced entry to Paul’s flat, recovering the rucksack and school books.
On June 26, 2020 police located Noah’s missing laptop at Nolan’s hostel accommodation on Belfast’s University Street.
She retrieved it from under a chest of drawers and handed it to officers.
Neither of the pair are suspected of having any direct contact with the teenager.
Nolan, with a current address at Linenhall Street in Armagh, contested the charge of handling stolen goods by claiming she thought the computer belonged to Paul.
Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard he pulled the rucksack out from under a sofa at his flat during a night they spent together taking cocaine and diazepam.
Claiming to be unaware at that stage that the schoolboy was missing, Nolan said in a statement: “That was the first time that I had seen anything belonging to Noah, although I did not know it was Noah’s at the time.”
According to her account Paul rummaged around in the bag and produced the laptop, while a coat she also subsequently learned belonged to the schoolboy lay on the sofa.
It was claimed that he planned to sell the computer for money to purchase drugs, some of which would be given to her.
Crucially, however, she added: “Knowing Daryl, I knew that this was stolen property.”
Nolan later backtracked on that part of her statement, claiming it was wrongly worded.
CCTV footage from Cash Converters played in court showed her approach the counter alongside Paul, produce the laptop from her handbag and leave after staff refused any trade.
Nolan said they parted when he decided to go on a shoplifting spree at a nearby clothing retailer.
She then went back to her hostel with the laptop, storing it under the chest of drawers.
Despite insufficient evidence that Nolan knew at the time that it belonged to Noah, Ms Marshall convicted her of the charge she faced.
The judge cited Nolan’s awareness of Paul’s character, his retrieval of the laptop from under a sofa and the location from where it was ultimately recovered.
At a sentencing hearing today defence barrister Sean O’Hare indicated that Nolan intends to continue living outside Belfast.
Mr O’Hare told the court she has been subjected to “very unfair comments on social media” since her conviction.
Suspending the prison term for 18 months, Judge Marshall warned of the consequences of any further offending.
She told Nolan: “It is hanging over your head for the next year and a half; three months in custody if you get into any new trouble.”
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