Judge upholds application by PSNI to withhold sensitive information from Noah Donohoe inquest

A judge has upheld an application from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to withhold certain sensitive material from an inquest into the death of schoolboy Noah Donohoe.

Mr Justice Michael Humphreys said disclosing the information would create a real risk to the public interest.

He insisted, however, that none of the material subject to the PSNI's controversial Public Interest Immunity (PII) application was of "central relevance" to the questions that November's scheduled inquest would explore.

Fourteen-year-old Noah, a pupil at St Malachy's College in Belfast, was found dead in a storm drain in the north Belfast in June 2020, six days after going missing.

In making the PII application, the PSNI argued that disclosing the information, which includes details on police methodologies and source handling, would damage national security interests.

The PII application related to material in three police folders that will be used during the inquest.

The requested redactions related to reference numbers, grading of intelligence, information related to police sources and details of PSNI investigative methodologies.

Delivering his ruling on the PII application, Justice Humphreys said: "Disclosure of the redacted material would give rise to a real risk of serious harm to the public interest."

The judge said the redactions applied for by the police were "no more than the minimum necessary to ensure the real risk of harm is mitigated".

He added: "The representatives of the next of kin can be assured that nothing has been redacted which shows that any third party was involved in Noah Donohoe's death, nor that would suggest there has been any cover up in the course of the investigation."

Justice Humphreys said determination of a PII application involved balancing the principle of open justice against the need to protect the public interest.

"The redactions only relate to the ways in which the police handle and process intelligence information and the identity of sources," he said.

"The actual content of the intelligence information is not redacted at all.

"So, the next of kin and the corner will have a full picture of the information which was supplied to the police."

He said the "lack of probative value" of the material had to be considered against the potential harm posed if information on police methodologies got into the hands of criminals or terrorists.

"The balance comes down clearly in favour of non-disclosure," he added.

Concluding, the judge said: "This limited withholding of information will have no adverse impact upon the ability of the inquest to answer the statutory questions and to comply with its obligation to allay rumour and suspicion and to fully investigate the death."

November's inquest will be heard by coroner Joe McCrisken. The PII process was dealt with separately by Justice Humphreys.

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