By Fra Hughes in West Belfast
LAST Thursday, January 7, 2020, Fiona Donohoe led a cavalcade of hundreds of cars with perhaps thousands of people on a marathon drive across Belfast, from Blacks Road Park and Ride, to the gates of Stormont, home to the Northern Ireland regionally devolved government.
This convoy ‘Justice for Noah’ was warmly welcomed by hundreds of well-wishers along the route, which took in many of the main arterial routes in the city. This was in stark contrast to the greeting Fiona and Noah’s Army received at the seat of power, where the gates remained firmly shut and all that those attending could do, was to place blue ribbons symbolically on the closed gates, which may represent the closed hearts and minds of the local administration. Fiona called for a full, thorough and transparent investigation into the death of her 14-year-old son.
Noah disappeared on Sunday, June 21, 2019, while cycling across Belfast to meet friends.
The young 14-year-old grammar school pupil attended St Malachys College in North Belfast, a few miles from his home on the Ormeau Road, in South Belfast.
He had arranged to meet some friends from school and visit a Belfast Castle and country park as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award duties.
He never reached his friends. He never returned home. He was last seen naked on his bicycle at 18.11 on the Shore Road near its junction with Northwood Road.
His bike was found along with some of his clothing, although his coat and backpack containing his laptop where not located at the scene.
A missing person protocol was then launched but it was not until the following Tuesday night that searches were organised by the community to find young Noah.
An anonymous telephone caller told police Noah had fallen from his bike and may have sustained a head injury, leading to the suspicion he may have been disorientated and confused. Noah was wearing his helmet at that time.
Several hundred people then answered a public call to assist in finding Noah. The park near Northwood Road, where it was believed he was last seen, was thoroughly searched to include part of the storm drain system that was located there.
There were two further searches the following day, Wednesday, when all those involved felt they had done everything in their power and called for a better organised and resourced police/mountain rescue team search operation.
The Police had painted a public picture of a young boy who fell off his bike, sustained a head injury, who removed all his clothes and disappeared in public with no witnesses, on a sunny bright Sunday evening at dinner time.
They repeated, that the fall may have led to his disorientation and there was conjecture he might have suffered from overheating due to concussion and that is why he may have stripped off his clothes.
Noah was found dead six days later, in the storm drain system several hundred metres from where the Police believe he must have entered.
I was informed by some of those on the search that the drain system had been partially searched by a trained recovery dog, who found no trace of Noah. This was on the previous Wednesday although it is possible Noah was beyond the dog’s scent range. I took part in all three searches along with my partner.
Coroner’s case is ongoing.
There are reports that the post mortem concluded Noah suffered no head injury, which places the events which may have occurred due to supposed head injury in serious doubt.
Noah’s bag and laptop were subsequently offered for sale at a Cash Converters store with Noah’s name and address still visible on his school books.
The staff contacted the Police and a suspect was arrested.
A petty criminal with previous convictions has pleaded guilty to ‘theft by finding’ and will be sentenced soon. He claimed he just happened to find Noahs belongings hanging on a fence.
The facts remain. Noah left home in South Belfast and traversed the city centre, cycling onto the Shore Road where he disappeared.
Noah, a boy of mixed race, is survived by his mum, Fiona, who is leading calls for full disclosure of the facts of his disappearance and death.
Noah attended a catholic school and disappeared in a loyalist/unionist/protestant area where two weeks previously a young catholic boy, also cycling part of the route taken by Noah, was pushed from his bike, had the bicycle stolen and had to receive hospital treatment for head injuries sustained during the assault.
While no one is claiming Noah was the victim of a sectarian incident, the fact remains that Fiona, Noah’s mum, believes that an incompetent, incomplete and inconclusive police investigation has failed to redress some of the very fundamental questions as to what happened to a 14-year-old happy go lucky boy, who wanted to be a doctor when he grew up – how he ended up naked in a storm drain and why it took 6 days to recover his body.
Why did the police push the line of enquiry that a head injury caused Noah to become disorientated and remove his clothes, climb into a drainage tunnel and subsequently drown, when the child sustained no such injury if the state autopsy is to be believed, is a cause for concern.
While hundreds of cars and thousands of people attended the car rally vigil, two things remain of concern.
The convoy was received with closed curtains and closed doors in the very streets around where Noah disappeared.
The convoy it is claimed took up to two hours to pass any single point along the route to Stormont, lights flashing and horns blaring. Many have commented on the apathy and lack of support offered by many residents of the shore road, which was in complete contrast to the rest of the convoy route. I was on the convoy myself.
Stormont, which houses the local assembly, had the gates firmly closed to the cavalcade and the silence of the local media and politicians is deafening.
This silence is compounded by the see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil attitude shown by the MP for North Belfast, John Finucan, the MP for South Belfast, Claire Hanna and the local Justice Minister, Naomi Long. Soundbites and hand wringing are not good enough.
There are nearly 100,000 people in Noah’s Army, online.
As we approach week 30 from Noah’s disappearance and the weekly Sunday Twitter storm at 6.11, #Noahsarmy, #week30, #Remembermynoah, the call, the campaign and our united community are demanding Justice for Noah and answers for Fiona.