A woman involved in a failed bid to trade in tragic schoolboy Noah Donohoe’s laptop for money to buy drugs has been convicted of handling stolen goods.
Maria Nolan denied knowing the computer belonged to Noah when she stored it at her hostel room as searches for the teenager continued across Belfast.
But District Judge Anne Marshall held that the 30-year-old would still have been aware the laptop had been dishonestly obtained by the man who accompanied her to a city centre pawn shop.
She released Nolan on continuing bail to be sentenced next month.
Noah was found dead in a north Belfast storm drain in June 2020, six days after he went missing on a bike trip.
In January last year Daryl Paul, 34, was jailed for stealing a rucksack containing the laptop and school books belonging to the 14-year-old St Malachy’s College pupil.
Paul was said to have taken the bag and its contents home with him after finding them in Belfast on the day Noah vanished.
Days later he entered a Cash Converters in the city centre with Nolan and attempted to sell the computer.
Suspicious staff refused any trade and alerted the PSNI, who forced entry to Paul’s flat, recovering the rucksack and school books.
On June 26, 2020, Noah’s missing laptop was located at Nolan’s hostel accommodation on Belfast’s University Street.
She retrieved it from under a chest of drawers and handed it to officers.
Neither of the pair are suspected of having any direct contact with the teenager.
Nolan, with a current address at Linenhall Street in Armagh, contested the charge of handling stolen goods by claiming she thought the computer belonged to Paul.
Belfast Magistrates Court heard that he pulled the rucksack out from under a sofa at his flat during a night they spent together taking cocaine and diazepam.
Claiming to be unaware at that stage that the schoolboy was missing, Nolan said in a statement: “That was the first time that I had seen anything belong to Noah, although I did not know it was Noah’s at the time.”
According to her account Paul rummaged around in the bag and produced the laptop, while a coat she also subsequently learned belonged to the schoolboy lay on the sofa.
It was claimed that he planned to sell the computer for money to purchase drugs, some of which would be given to her.
Crucially, she added: “Knowing Daryl, I knew that this was stolen property.”
Nolan later backtracked on that part of her statement, claiming it was wrongly worded.
She told her barrister, Sean O’Hare: “It was Daryl Paul’s flat, so I thought he owned it.
“I have been fully honest, cooperated and tried to help, but it has come back on me.”
CCTV footage from Cash Converters played during the hearing showed her approach the counter alongside Paul, produce the laptop from her handbag and leave when a member of staff refused any trade.
Nolan said they parted when he decided to go on a shoplifting spree at a nearby clothing retailer.
She then went back to her hostel with the laptop, storing it under the chest of drawers.
Despite insufficient evidence that Nolan was aware at the time that it belonged to Noah, Ms Marshall convicted her of the charge she faced.
The judge cited Nolan’s awareness of Paul’s character, his retrieval of the laptop from under a sofa and the location from where it was ultimately recovered.
“She was assuming the rights of the owner when she went to Cash Converters, she took an active part in the conversation with a member of staff there, the laptop was in her handbag, she left with it in her handbag and then returned home later on, still with the laptop,” Ms Marshall said.
“I am satisfied beyond any reasonable doubt that she is guilty of the offence of handling the stolen laptop.”