The reported death of west Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci has been treated with suspicion by the families of those he killed.
The man known as ‘Stakeknife’, the highest British Army agent ever exposed within the Provisional IRA, was claimed to have died earlier this month and quietly buried. He was a leading figure in the IRA’s internal security unit which dealt with alleged informers, but was in the pay of MI5. He carried out a series of killings at the request of, or with the knowledge of, his British Army handlers.
A lawyer acting for 12 people believed to have been killed by Scappaticci and his unit has written to several state bodies requesting more information “about the nature and timing of his death”.
He is supposed to have died earlier this month, however, details of his death, including cause and location, have not been made public.
His death is one of a series of ‘deaths’ convenient for the British government, including that of another top agent, Willie Carlin, earlier this year.
In 2016, a high level police investigation ‘Operation Kenova’ under English police chief John Boutcher was set to investigate the Crown’s operations relating to ‘Stakeknife’, but it has yet to file a report. One is said to be due in June.
It is one of several state bodies contacted this week by KRW Law, who are acting for grieving relatives and one man who survived interrogation by the unit.
The other agencies written to include the Attorney General for England and Wales, the Ministry of Defence, the Director for Public Prosecutions and PSNI Chief Simon Byrne.
In the letter lawyer Kevin Winters wrote: “Following the death of Mr Scappaticci some of our clients have contacted us to express concern over the manner in which news of his demise was communicated into the public domain.
“We say all of the victims have an entitlement to more specific information about the nature and timing of his death.”
Mr Winters added that “suspicion is compounded by the time of the death coming as it does within a matter of weeks of the publication of the Kenova report and a pending direction from the PPS on criminal cases”.
The lawyer said he has been instructed to request information on the circumstances of the suspected agent’s death, including when and precisely where it took place.
A request has also been made as to where the burial took place and when authorities were first made aware of his death.
In addition, those contacted have also been asked if families can “have access to the post-mortem report to allay suspicion about the cause of death”.
The families involved have been waiting more than six years for the publication of the Operation Kenova report.
The lawyer said Scappaticci’s death would have an impact on whether or not criminal prosecutions go ahead in the 33 cases referred by Operation Kenova nearly three years ago.
“Families of victims will rightly ask questions. Their cynicism is heightened upon learning that news of Scappaticci’s burial seems to have been kept quiet by the authorities over the Easter weekend,” he said.
He also said Operation Kenova should have been widened to investigate other agents apart from the Belfast man.
“I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if there were more senior agents linked to the Provisional IRA internal security unit than Freddie Scappaticci,” Mr Winters said.
“My personal view is that Scappaticci presented as but one of a number of agents and informers in the organisation’s internal security.
“I have long been concerned about the narrow remit of the terms of reference of Operation Kenova, which were Freddie Scappaticci-centric to the exclusion of looking at other agents.”
He added: “We don’t know if Freddie Scappaticci is the one and only Stakeknife. There are all sorts of conspiracy theories in circulation.
“Jon Boutcher’s pending interim report might help dispel suggestions that Stakeknife was a project as opposed to a person.”
Sinn Féin initially defended Scappaticci as suspicion fell on him in 200 but have remained silent on the matter since them. This has only added to fears that the level of infiltration went higher.
Former republican prisoner Gerard Hodgins, who was sentenced to 12 years for an IRA-related conviction partly due to Scappaticci’s actions, described his reported death as “a great convenience”.
“If anything, I’m sad that any opportunities for him to be further investigated and his British intelligence deeds to be uncovered are now lost,” he said.
The former British agent, Ian Hurst, who named Scappaticci as Stakeknife in his book of the same name, said he has no faith that the truth will come out.
“I see Boutcher as a plastic policeman. The state has got a nice, friendly copper to charm victims,” he said.
“I think it will be a cruel process for victims with their hopes built up, only to be dashed.
“Kenova ain’t going anywhere. There is as much chance of it delivering the full truth as there is of President Biden running naked down the Champs-Élysées with Emmanuel Macron.
“The system isn’t about to give up its secrets.”