'Stakeknife': police spy in IRA to be investigated over murders
20 October 2015
One of the British state’s most important spies inside the Provisional IRA codenamed “Stakeknife” is to be investigated by police over a range of serious offences, including murder, while operating as an agent.
Northern Ireland’s director of public prosecutions, Barra McGrory, announced on Wednesday that he had instructed the region’s chief constable to open an inquiry into crimes allegedly linked to the spy named as Freddie Scappaticci.
It is understood the DPP has informed the chief constable that the police investigation should include a fresh look at up to 20 killings by the IRA in connection with the Stakeknife controversy.
McGrory’s decision has opened up the possibility that the Belfast republican accused of being a key informer for Britain while running the IRA’s “spy-catching” unit could be questioned about his secret career in open court.
McGrory said he had taken the decision after receiving information from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, whose office investigated complaints about the police handling of murders and violent interrogations which families alleged were linked to the state agent.
McGrory said: “The ombudsman has carried out a comprehensive analysis of material emanating from the three investigations carried out by Lord Stevens into allegations of collusion. A common link across a significant number of potential crimes, including murder, was the alleged involvement of an agent of military intelligence codenamed ‘Stakeknife’.
“In addition, the attorney general of Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, has recently contacted me about a murder case to inquire about any action the Public Prosecution Service may be considering. This is a case in which the same agent is potentially implicated.
“In the light of all of this information, I concluded that I must exercise my power to request that the chief constable investigates matters which may involve offences committed against the law of Northern Ireland and did so on August 11, 2015.”
The DPP confirmed he was also instructing the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, George Hamilton, to hold a separate investigation into allegations of perjury relating to a case connected to the “Stakeknife” scandal back in 2003.
Stakeknife was allegedly in charge of the so-called “head hunters”, the IRA unit that searched for, tracked down, brutally interrogated and then killed suspected informers.
Stakeknife was said to command a tightly knit group of men who were responsible for the deaths of many IRA members, some informers, others who it turned out were “set up” by the agent, who were murdered, their bodies normally dumped on side roads along the south Armagh border after hours and days of torture.
A number of families of IRA members shot dead as informers after interrogation by the “head hunters” have made complaints to the police ombudsman claiming that Stakeknife’s handlers in the security forces failed to use their agent inside the Provisionals to prevent their murders. Many of these families have alleged that their loved ones were “sacrificed” by the security forces to keep Stakeknife at the head of the IRA’s counter-intelligence unit where he could provide the state with invaluable insider information.
Meanwhile the DPP and the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland said they had agreed that each of the two investigations be referred back to the police ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, so he can consider if any further inquiry should be made into the actions of the police in this controversy.
McGrory concluded: “Before making this announcement, I have had a number of meetings with the chief constable, the police ombudsman and the attorney general and we are agreed in our commitment to ensure that the public should be able to have full confidence in the criminal justice system. We will each play our role independently, openly and with integrity.”
After being named as one of Britain’s key spies inside the Provisional IRA in 2003, Scappaticci left Northern Ireland. He publicly denied he was an agent. Since then he has gone to court to prevent the media from identifying where he now lives and barring journalists from approaching him for interviews.
Scappaticci, the grandson of Italian immigrants now in his 70s, was said to be a “walk-in” agent who volunteered to work for the army’s military intelligence branch the Force Research Unit in the 1980s after a major falling out with IRA leaders in Belfast.
An audio tape posted on the internet, allegedly from General Sir John Wilsey, who was commanding officer of the British army in Northern Ireland between 1990 and 1993, recorded that the military regarded Scappaticci as “our most important secret”.
Wilsey is reported to have said on the tape: “He was a golden egg, something that was very important to the army. We were terribly cagey about Fred.”