A coroner investigating the death of schoolboy Noah Donohoe has demanded an end to online speculation about his death.
Coroner Joe McCrisken branded some of the social media commentary about the 14-year-old’s death as inaccurate, baseless and potentially criminal.
The St Malachy’s College pupil was found dead in a storm drain near the M2 motorway in June, six days after he went missing in north Belfast.
Police believe he entered the drain in the Northwood Road area of north Belfast.
He had cycled to the area from his home in south Belfast and shortly before he went missing he was seen with no clothes on. Prior to that the schoolboy was seen falling off his bike on the Shore Road.
His disappearance prompted a major search operation with hundreds of people from across Belfast involved.
Noah’s mother Fiona and aunt Niamh attended an opening preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast on Friday. A full inquest is due to be heard on January 18 next year.
The coroner said while there was an understandable desire among the public to establish what happened to the schoolboy, he criticised those expressing opinions online.
“Most of this content has been inaccurate and baseless and some has been distressing to Noah’s family, and some may have been criminal,” he said.
The coroner, who described Noah as “well liked, fiercely intelligent and hugely talented”, said the speculation had to cease immediately.
“I’m asking the community and media to respect my wishes as the coroner responsible for investigating Noah’s death and respect the wishes of Noah’s family to be left in peace to begin to properly grieve for Noah,” he said.
Mr McCrisken stressed that legal proceedings were active and warned that such commentary may be in breach of contempt of court laws.
He said police and coroner’s investigators had to be given “space” to conduct further inquiries.
Last week, a family spokeswoman said the preliminary findings of a post-mortem indicated the schoolboy had drowned and had not suffered a head injury.
One of the police’s early theories was that Noah sustained a head injury in the fall from his bike, causing him to become disorientated and enter the drain.
Mr McCrisken stressed during Friday’s hearing that the post-mortem results were preliminary and further tests were to be conducted.
During the 15-minute hearing, the coroner outlined some details around Noah’s last movements.
He made clear that Noah had not been seen interacting with any other people in all the CCTV footage police had secured of his journey to Northwood Road.
He said his bag containing his laptop was found on York Street and his phone was found on North Queen Street.
The coroner said while some items of Noah’s clothes had been recovered, other items had not been found – namely a green coat, grey Primark shorts with no logo, white underwear and a dark green T-shirt with a light green and orange skull image.
He urged anyone with information about the items to come forward.
The coroner also told the hearing that there was no evidence that his death was linked to any other deaths.
Solicitor Niall Murphy, representing the family, said he welcomed the call for the unhelpful and ill-informed commentary to stop.
“The family reiterate that that stop today,” he said.
Mr Murphy called on residents in the area where Noah went missing to check their CCTV camera recordings.
The solicitor said the family hoped the inquest would be able to answer their questions as to how Noah came to be in a state of undress and how he entered the drain.
He thanked all of those who had been involved in the search and who had passed their thoughts to the family.
Mr Murphy said they had provided a “modicum of comfort” as the family endures a “living nightmare”.
A further preliminary hearing was scheduled for September 30.