An investigation is to be launched into the series of killings carried out by the British agent known as Stakeknife and other Crown agents acting secretly inside the Provisional IRA.
The Police Ombudsman’s Office is examining allegations that British military intelligence directed executions of ‘informers’ by their own spies operating within the IRA.
The inquiry by the Historical Investigations Directorate is focusing on the role of the double-agent known as Stakeknife, who ran the IRA’s counter intelligence section.
At least 20 such killings are to be investigated in of the most sinister aspects of the conflict.
Stakeknife has been identified as Freddie Scappaticci (pictured), a republican who fled Belfast after being named as a double agent more than a decade ago. Scappaticci was a close friend of many in the republican leadership in west Belfast. He has always denied working for British military intelligence and continues to deny being Stakeknife.
Relatives of those interrogated by the IRA have recently launched compensation cases against the British government. Some have argued that genuine republicans were executed as ‘informers’ in order to protect other British spies.
In some instances, the families of executed ‘informers’ have alleged that their loved ones were set up simply in order to provide cover for the British government’s most important double-agents inside the IRA.
The ombudsman’s office has written to Kevin Winters, one of the lawyers representing the victims, to confirm that a “thematic approach” inquiry is under way.
The allegations include claims that some killings could have been prevented and that people were subsequently protected from investigation and prosecution.
There has been growing pressure by the victims for a full-scale inquiry into Britain’s handling of spies within the IRA. Winters met the ombudsman this week to discuss the investigation. In a statement released afterwards, his Belfast law firm, KRW Law, welcomed the development. It said other official agencies had, until now, been reluctant to look at common themes such as the use of informers and the mechanisms of collusion involved.
KRW Law said: “The initiative of [the ombudsman] ... makes sense on resource grounds and more importantly on the grounds that in identifying the thematic links in ‘complex’ investigations, initially regarding the operation of the RUC, the extent of collusion will be revealed and the nearer victims will be to fulfilling their quest for truth, justice and accountability.”
A former British military intelligence officer, Ian Hurst, has publicly offered to give evidence about the role of Stakeknife to the ombudsman. Hurst has previously provided information about the British agents involved in the loyalist murder of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane.
Hurst, who served in the murderous ‘Force Research Unit’ of MI5, has confirmed that in many cases republicans accused of being informers were ordered to be killed simply to protect the double agent’s reputation.