27 November 2005

‘Stakeknife’ probed over IRA killings

Sunday Times

Liam Clarke
27 November 2005

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STAKEKNIFE, the most important British agent within the IRA during the Troubles, is being investigated for two murders and a kidnapping and the investigation is being widened to include dozens of other killings, senior police sources have revealed.

The Northern Ireland historic cases review, which is examining unsolved murders during the Troubles, is planning to investigate all deaths attributed to the IRA’s security team, which was headed by Stakeknife.

But none of the agent’s handlers in British military intelligence are likely to face charges in relation to these killings. Despite a finding by Sir John Stevens, a senior British police officer, that there was collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane, a Belfast solicitor, nobody from the security forces will face charges for that either.

Dave Cox, a former commander in the Metropolitan police who is in charge of the review, said: “The allegation is that Stakeknife is an (army) agent involved in murders. We are looking at all the murders of alleged touts (informants) and then seeing which ones it would be appropriate to investigate him for.”

Cox confirmed that Stakeknife is currently on police bail for “two murders and one kidnap” and added: “Our focus is going to change; we are looking at all the deaths attributable to the IRA’s security team.”

Stakeknife is the intelligence service codename for Freddie Scappaticci, a west Belfast republican who was a senior figure in the IRA’s internal security division responsible for rooting out informants. While he worked in this role he was himself an agent for the Force Research Unit (FRU), a British special forces unit responsible for handling informants and agents within paramilitary groups.

Scappaticci agreed to work for FRU in 1978 after he became disillusioned with IRA violence. He was unmasked by the press in 2003. The IRA had suspected his role since the early 1990s and denied him access to sensitive information. They never attacked him physically or identified him because of the embarrassment it would have caused.

Scappaticci had been promoted and trusted by many senior republicans and his treachery reflected badly on their judgment. He was a close friend of Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, for many years.

One of the murders for which Scappaticci is being investigated is Joseph Fenton, and the kidnapping is that of Alexander “Sandy” Lynch, an informer captured by the IRA but rescued by the British army before he could be killed.

Fenton, a west Belfast estate agent, was found dumped in the Lenadoon estate in 1989. An RUC Special Branch agent since 1982, he had supplied houses to the IRA to use for meetings, but allowed the security forces to bug them.

Following a tip-off, probably from Scappaticci, the police told him the IRA had uncovered his role and offered him assistance to move to England in order to save his life. Once there, Fenton contacted an MP to protest at being moved. The MP, who has asked not to be named, said: “He insisted on returning to Northern Ireland.”

Defying advice, Fenton returned to Belfast where he was kidnapped and murdered.

Lynch was held and interrogated in the same house as Fenton. He told police that, during his abduction, Scappaticci questioned him on behalf of the IRA but left the house minutes before the army arrived. Scappaticci’s fingerprints were found on a battery in an electronic scanner that had been used to check Lynch for listening devices. Despite this, he was never charged in connection with the abduction.

In an anonymous interview with ITV’s Cook report in 1993 Scappaticci gave a description of the interrogation of informers. He said: “When (the IRA) have anyone, the standard procedure is to strip them and de-bug them, just to see if they are wired up. Then they usually put a boiler suit on them. They put them in a chair facing the wall, and go from there.”

The IRA murdered 60 alleged informants during the Troubles, 35 of them while Scappaticci was involved in the security team. Many of those who died had no involvement with the security forces.

Scappaticci is believed to have saved the lives of many more. But the families of some of those murdered as informers are convinced that they were sacrificed by the intelligence services to protect higher-level agents.

Phil James, a Detective Superintendent who is working with Cox on the review of Troubles murders, said that none of Scappaticci’s army handlers have been interviewed.

James and Cox worked on the Stevens inquiry into collusion between the security forces and paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. In that role, James interviewed Brigadier John Gordon Kerr under criminal caution in connection with Finucane’s murder.

Kerr, who is currently British military attaché in Beijing, was head of FRU at the time of Finucane’s murder in 1989.

James and Cox have both pointed out that if charges are brought against Stakeknife or any member of the security forces, they will not have to appear in court or serve a sentence if the Northern Ireland Offenses Bill, which passed its second reading in the House of Commons last Wednesday, passes into law.


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