If there’s one person reading this who doesn’t know that name and who isn’t familiar with the grim and tragic circumstances of the schoolboy’s death Squinter would be gobsmacked.
We’re not exactly unfamiliar with shocking death here, but the story of Noah’s six-day disappearance and its heartbreaking dénouement claims a special place in the annals of infamy, even though it’s barely two years since his naked body was found in a storm drain. And that’s remarkable because the case has managed to grip the public’s attention despite the almost total disinterest in it shown by the local media.
Squinter’s been at this game for 30 years, and while he makes no claim to be a Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein, he’s been writing and editing news stories long enough to know a big one when he sees it. And if he were to sit down and try to imagine a story guaranteed to grab the attention of mainstream media – daily newspapers, TV and radio – he would be hard pushed to come up with anything more powerful. Think about it for a second…
On May 25, 2020, 46-year-old black man George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police. The shocking footage of his death sparked a surge of global anger that pushed the Black Lives Matter movement to the fore of public consciousness. Protests and rallies were continuing to take place around the globe when, just three weeks later, Noah left his South Belfast home to cycle to North Belfast where he had arranged to meet some friends. It was late afternoon on Sunday, June 21. He had agreed to call his mother a short time later, but the call was never made.
As the days passed, the search for Noah grew in intensity, with ordinary people arriving from all over the city and beyond to lend a hand. Six days later his naked body was found in a storm drain just off the Shore Road, near to the Crusaders football ground.
So, in the midst of an unprecedented worldwide focus on racial violence, a mixed-race teenage boy goes missing. After six days of ceaseless and ever-mounting media coverage, he is found dead, unclothed, in a storm drain. The scene is set for the media to go to work. How did he die? Where did he go? Who saw him? Where’s the CCTV? Why was he naked. Where are his clothes? Where is his bike? Where are his backpack and laptop? There’s enough here to fill newspaper front pages and talk-show and TV slots for months to come. The appetite for information is huge.
But then something extraordinary happened. The story just kind of fizzled out. Media outlets here are no different from those anywhere else – they love nothing better than a long-running story which both engages and inflames public opinion. In the industry such a story is said to ‘have legs’ – ie, it will run and run. Stories with legs are journalist gold dust. Noah Donohoe’s story had legs like no other Belfast story I’ve seen in decades.
But the story slowed down, and then it stopped; the legs were gone, the run was over. Squinter doesn’t know why. Hasn’t a clue. Does he think journalist colleagues of his are involved in an elaborate conspiracy to hide the truth about what happened? No, of course he doesn’t. He simply makes the observation that in late June 2020 this was a massive story which for the media had ceased to be a massive story at the very time it was gathering pace.
But it’s perhaps the role of the PSNI that has furrowed Squinter’s brow most of all. A police spokesperson ruled out foul play at an extraordinarily early stage. A post-mortem found that Noah died by drowning, but a spokesperson for the family has observed that the finding “raises more questions than answers” and the inquest remains subject to delays. But it’s the police’s decision to seek a Public Interest Immunity Certificate (PIIC) in relation to information contained in three evidence files on Noah’s disappearance and death that has deepened Squinter’s concern about the case into something more akin to astonishment.
PIICs are normally used to hide police information-gathering processes and to protect informants. Squinter has no idea what the police doesn’t want the public to know about its investigation into the death of a schoolboy.
A QC for the PSNI told Coroner Joe McCriskin in December that PIICs are most often sought in relation to police “methodology”, which merely leads us to wonder what on earth the police could have been doing in their investigation of the disappearance and death of a child that they don’t want us to know about. And in making the application, the PSNI will have been fully aware of the suspicions that it would give rise to and of the further dent that it would put in already shaky public confidence in police handling of the case. But clearly they view the hiding of the information as being worth the reputational hit. And that’s quite the calculation.
Yee-haw! That four-flushing, no-good Protocol’s gotta go, pardner
Transcript of cowboy pastor Rusty Thomas’s rootin’, tootin’ speech at the anti-Protocol protest in Lurgan on Friday evening...
HOWDY, pardners! Ah’m jest plum tickled to be here with y’all tonight to speak out against the… lemme see here now… mah liddle pal Jamie jest told me what it is… the onion-subjugating protocol. Ain’t that a cotton-pickin’ mouthful!
Ah shore am grateful to you good folks for invitin’ me to Lurgan in the beautiful County Down to say a little sumthin’ about them Gahdless, baby-killin’ heathens in Europe and their hatred of the good and decent Pratestant people of this purty little Pravince of Ulsterland.
Ah wanna say hi to another liddle buddy of mine, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, or J.D., as Ah like to call him.
J.D. and Ah had never met before tonight, but Ah already feel like we’ve known each forever. Ah was jest so happy to let him try on mah cowboy hat, and while it did come down over his ears quite a bit, Ah gotta say he’s the cutest liddle ranch hand Ah ever did see.
And this night would not be complete without mah Lurgan compadre Jimbob Allister. Ah asked Jimbob today why he’s not a Sir and J.D. is. He tole me it’s because he will never bend his stiff old knee to the enemies of Ulster, and Ah kinda figured that means that J.D. does, seein’ as how he’s a Sir and all and Jimbob ain’t. But Jimbob told me, no, people jest think J.D.’s kneelin’ all the time because he’s such a tiny liddle thing and Ah said, “Ay-men to that, Jimbob.”
Ah wanna thank Jamie for puttin’ me up last night. He let me have his bedroom and Ah jest cain’t thank him enough, even though I don’t know why he’s got a duvet with Rangers 565 on it. Ah fell asleep in the soft and comforting orange glow of an Ulster flag lampshade lookin’ at a portrait of Klondike Kate Hoey on the wall, the purtiest lookin’ gal this side of the Pecos. Jamie slept in the attic and he tole me it ain’t so bad because he’s kinda gotten used to it over the years. I had to fess up and tell him Ah shore don’t know what that means.
We wuz up bright and early for breakfast and he rustled up a mess of chow he said was an ‘Ulster fry’. Ah took one look and asked him did he have any pancakes and grits. Ah do love you Ulster folk with all mah heart, but if you keep eatin’ that stuff every mornin’ ain’t gonna be too many of you left to fight the good fight.
Before Ah leave y’all to get on with the speechifyin’ and the drummin’ and all, Ah jest feel like Ah gotta say a word about this King Billy feller Ah keep seein’ and hearin’ about. Now Ah know them Papists don’t smell too good and Ah know they keep their coal in the bath and worship graven images, but Ah gotta say that puttin’ pictures of a big ole gay guy on a white horse wearin’ fancy duds – even if he is a Pratestant gay guy – kinda puts an itch in mah britches. Back home in the Texas Panhandle, we don’t take kindly to guys kissin’ other guys and all kindsa other stuff they ain’t got no business doin’. We like guys on horses with ten-gallon hats and bandido moustaches and sweaty shirts and leather chaps and studded boots. What’s that, sir? Like the guy out of Village People?
Yes… No… Definitely not.
Can Ah git an ay-men for definitely not?