There has been a very cautious welcome for the news that a new police investigation is to be set up into the activities of British army agent Stakeknife, thought to have been the highest ranking British double agent within the IRA during the conflict.
Stakeknife is understood to have led the IRA’s internal security unit and used his position to kill dozens of genuine republicans and low-level informers, while helping others to escape punishment for their betrayal.
The PSNI have always refused to identify him as west Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci (pictured), who went into hiding in May 2003.
The new investigation which will be known as Operation Kenova will be headed up by chief constable of Bedfordshire Police, Jon Boutcher.
“My team and I will happily speak to anyone, including, but not limited to non-governmental organisations, whistle blowers, academics, investigative journalists, human rights specialists and crucially, and most importantly, the families of the victims,” he said.
His first step could be a public confirmation that Stakeknife is, indeed, Scappaticci.
It was reported that the probe could take up to five years to complete and will be based in “secure accommodation” in London. It was promised that investigators will be recruited form law enforcement agencies across Britain but will not include personnel who are serving in or have previously served in the RUC, PSNI, Ministry of Defence or Security Services (MI5).
Frank Mulhern, whose son Joseph was shot dead by Stakeknife, welcomed the investigation but questioned the length of time it will take to complete. He was speaking on behalf of the group Families of State Executions, which includes other relatives of people killed by double agents.
“We would welcome this and wait to see what happens,” he said. “I can’t believe it’s going to take five years and #35 million. All the information they need, they already have.”
The daughter of a woman who was allegedly murdered by Scappaticci said she was relieved that the investigation was “finally starting”. Belfast woman Caroline Moreland, a Catholic mother of three, was killed in July 1994. Her daughter, Shauna, said: “I’m still very cynical of getting the whole truth but I don’t think I would be able to go on with this fight believing that I couldn’t get aspects of the truth at least.”
The family’s lawyer, Kevin Winters, said there are currently over 40 legal challenges pending before the courts in regard to the Scappaticci case.
“Those statistics are a depressing reminder of the ongoing political failure to deal with the past compounded by recent pronouncements about lack of money,” he said.
Mr Winters added: “We look forward to the next stage of the proceedings and hope that today’s ruling will help get the outside police force off the ground in what will be a massive inquiry.”