Police looking into alleged collusion between the Security Service and an army mole have uncovered a cache of new documents
Sir Andrew Parker, director-general of the Security Service, will be asked to make a statement detailing his agency’s knowledge of Stakeknife’s alleged crimes after detectives uncovered a cache of secret documents at Thames House, MI5’s London headquarters.
Police officers working on a £35m inquiry into alleged collusion between British intelligence officers and the IRA double agent over three decades have set up a permanent unit in MI5 after the discovery of the previously undisclosed material, some of which is understood to be held on antiquated microfiche.
Detectives from Operation Kenova, led by Jon Boutcher, the chief constable of Bedfordshire police, arrested Freddie Scappaticci, 72, known by the codename Stakeknife, in January on suspicion of murder, kidnap and torture.
Scappaticci, who fed information to MI5 and British army intelligence while operating as head of the IRA’s feared internal security department — known as the “nutting squad” — has been in hiding and under protection for more than a decade. He is alleged to have been involved in the killing of Caroline Moreland in Belfast in 1994, the murder of Joe Fenton in 1989 and the kidnapping of Alexander “Sandy” Lynch in 1990.
Scappaticci denies being Stakeknife and rejects any suggestion that he was involved in any murder, kidnap or torture.
Kenova, which includes 50 detectives and civilian staff, is investigating whether British intelligence handlers allowed suspected informants to be sacrificed so Stakeknife, a prized agent, could maintain his cover. Tensions are understood to be mounting between MI5 and the police. “Boutcher has upset quite a few people at the service,” said a source. “He is not in a cosy relationship with them. The victims’ families are his No 1 priority.”
The dispute is understood to centre on the discovery of MI5 documents not previously disclosed to earlier police inquiries into collusion and Stakeknife’s activities, including three led by Lord Stevens, the former Met commissioner.
“Kenova has found documents that Stevens did not see which are very telling about the role that our man played in certain things,” said a source. “They are documents that the service has kept that they probably should have got rid of.”
The Sunday Times understands police officers were puzzled not to find the same papers at the Ministry of Defence because Stakeknife was recruited and “run” by the Force Research Unit (FRU), a shadowy arm of the British Army’s intelligence corps, which handled undercover agents in Northern Ireland. During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, however, Scappaticci’s intelligence on the IRA was so valuable that the FRU shared it with other agencies, including MI5, which appears to have kept records.
“All the relevant agencies are being questioned about who authorised [the documents’] destruction,” said the source. “Kenova is saying to the top person at each agency, what do you have? And if you don’t have it, who destroyed it? Every couple of weeks they find a new document that they haven’t seen before, or one that was given to Stevens originally in a redacted form.”
The secret intelligence war during the Troubles has been repeatedly investigated, but previous cases collapsed after ministers intervened to rule that disclosing details in the courts would breach national security. It is understood MI5 will again argue against prosecuting Scappaticci because any trial might implicate the Security Service. “A lot of people are concerned about the implications the inquiry could have on their previous involvement with Scappaticci,” said an intelligence source. “People were doing things that may have been deemed operationally necessary at the time but may no longer be acceptable.”
Detectives on Kenova believe they have uncovered enough evidence to charge Scappaticci. Several files have been submitted to the director of public prosecutions in Belfast. But any charging decision is so sensitive that one source claimed it would ultimately have to be taken by Geoffrey Cox, the attorney-general. “Kenova is 100% confident that it is way over the threshold for the evidential test,” a source claimed. “If [the attorney-general] says [charging] is not in the public interest, then nothing is ever going to meet it. And then you have to ask, why are we spending all this money?”
“Kenova wants to deal with it so people can move on. To have another Kenova in four years’ time would be madness.”
The investigation began in 2016 after Barra McGrory, then director of public prosecutions in Northern Ireland, saw previously undisclosed classified documents that seemed to link Stakeknife to several murders. McGrory said the papers made for “chilling reading”. He said: “What we’re talking about are almost parallel processes. We have one in which there’s a police investigation, but all along there is a secret dimension to these events. Now that drives a coach and horses through the rule of law.”
Kenova has also obtained the FRU’s rules of engagement, which state that its informants cannot be involved in criminality without authorisation from the commanding officer. But The Sunday Times understands that most of the handlers interviewed by Kenova have said they were never briefed on the rules.
Boutcher will be aware that he is playing a dangerous game. A predecessor, John Stalker, former deputy chief constable of Manchester police, claimed to have uncovered six murders when asked to investigate the Northern Irish police’s “shoot-to-kill” policy against Republican terrorist suspects during the 1980s.
Stalker was suspended from the inquiry in 1986 just as he believed he was about to obtain an MI5 tape of a shooting. His report was never published.
Scappaticci was the son of an Italian immigrant father who moved to Northern Ireland and ran an ice cream van serving west Belfast. He was arrested by the Royal Ulster Constabulary over a VAT fraud. Spared prosecution, he agreed to hand over information and soon graduated to spying for the FRU. He was given a number, 6126, and a codename. Originally this was “steak knife”, but as the notoriety of the double agent grew, it was misspelt.
He rose to head the IRA’s internal security unit, whose job was to protect the Republican movement from penetration by British intelligence. Scappaticci has been directly linked to 17 killings, but military intelligence sources have said he was providing information that was saving many other lives.
The state has tried and failed to protect Stakeknife’s anonymity — he was first outed in 2003. General Sir John Wilsey, a commander in Northern Ireland from 1990 to 1993, was secretly recorded in 2012 admitting: “He was a golden egg, very important to the army . . . We were terribly cagey about Fred.”
6 OF THE 17 ALLEGED VICTIMS
Caroline Moreland, 34, who had three children, was abducted and murdered by the IRA in July 1994.
Joseph Mulhern, 22, was killed by the IRA in 1993 — it alleged that he was working for Special Branch.
Peter Valente, 33, a father of four, was killed in 1980; his death may have helped Scappaticci’s cover.
Maurice Gilvarry, 24, was shot dead in January 1981 and his body dumped in south Armagh.
Margaret Perry, 26, disappeared from her home in Portadown, Co Armagh, in June 1991. Her body was found in a shallow grave a year later.
Patrick Trainor, 28, who had three children, was abducted and murdered in 1981 amid suspicions that he was an informant.
With many thanks to: The Sunday Times and Tom Harper and Richard Kerbaj for the original story.
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