Man tried to trade-in Noah Donohoe’s laptop as searches for missing schoolboy took place, court told
A man accused of stealing Noah Donohoe’s laptop allegedly attempted a trade-in while searches for the tragic Belfast schoolboy were ongoing, a court heard today.
Daryl Paul was identified on CCTV footage trying to sell a computer at a Cash Converters store two days after the 14-year-old went missing, a judge was told.
Paul (33) claims he found a rucksack containing the device and school books but did not know who they belonged to.
The defendant, of Cliftonville Avenue in Belfast, faces a single charge of theft of a laptop belonging to Noah on June 21 this year.
There is no suggestion that he had any direct contact with the boy who disappeared on that date.
The St Malachy’s College pupil vanished during a cycle trip from his home in the south of the city, sparking a massive operation to locate him.
His body was found in a north Belfast storm drain on June 27. A post-mortem examination established he died as a result of drowning.
Paul was not brought before Belfast Magistrates’ Court due to Covid-19 protocols.
District Judge Peter Magill was told a man and woman went into Cash Converters on June 23, but were refused when they tried to sell a laptop. CCTV from the store allegedly showed a man identified as Paul.
An anonymous call was then made to police about someone being in possession of the computer, a rucksack and green North Face jacket and school books with Noah’s name on them.
Officers attending Paul’s home on June 25 – four days after Noah went missing – and recovered his backpack and books, the court heard.
At the time the accused was in custody for unrelated matters, but claimed he had found the laptop and given it to a friend to look after.
The computer was then said to have been located at the other person’s address.
During the hearing it was stressed that Paul is not believed to have ever encountered Noah.
Instead, detectives suspect he found the bag after it was discarded.
The court also heard police have been searching for the accused since he was released from custody on November 5.
He allegedly covered his face and tried to run away when located in the street.
During interviews he said that he discovered the rucksack and its contents perched up against a wall.
Claiming not to have examined the books inside in any detail, he said he would have returned them if he had known who they belonged to.
Paul also told officers that he planned to return the bag back at some stage.
Defence solicitor Una Conway said he had fully co-operated with police as a witness back on June 25.
“He led police to the recovery of this laptop,” she contended.
Stressing her client is only charged with theft, Ms Conway added: “There is no suggestion that Mr Paul’s involvement was anything more than coming across this rucksack.”
But Mr Magill responded: “It’s theft of not just any rucksack, it’s theft of the rucksack of a young boy who was missing and who the whole populace of Northern Ireland knew was missing and was being actively sought.
“This man (allegedly) had the boy’s rucksack with the boy’s laptop and the boy’s school books which had his name on them, I understand, and were stamped from his school.
“Descriptions were out in the media about all of these things being sought, that’s the circumstances that make this particularly unpleasant.”
Seeking bail, Ms Conway acknowledged Noah’s tragic death and how Paul discovered his bag.
Yes, we accept the evidence suggests he didn’t hand that in to police as soon as he should have,” she added.
“But he has made the case he was making efforts to get to the bottom of who owned it.”
It was also claimed that Paul has been attacked in custody due to media speculation about the case.
Bail was refused, however, due to concerns he could re-offend or fail to turn up for any trial.
Remanding Paul in custody for four weeks, Mr Magill also denied an application for reporting restrictions.
The judge emphasised: “There is no suspicion that (Paul) had any contact directly with Noah Donohoe. He says he found that backpack and there is nothing to indicate otherwise.
“I think apart from anything else there is a greater public interest; I’m not persuaded this man is in danger.
“At the moment, as of my direction, he is in custody where I fully expect he will be protected.”