Head of 'Stakeknife' inquiry says major prosecutions unlikely

A multimillion-pound inquiry into one of the biggest spy scandals in British espionage history is unlikely to result in any major prosecutions against a state agent operating at the heart of the IRA or his handlers.

Jon Boutcher, the head of Operation Kenova and the former chief constable of Bedfordshire, has admitted that prosecutions are “to be very much the exception” following his report into the Stakeknife controversy – the one-time head of the IRA’s internal security unit who was working as a double agent for British intelligence.

The spy, who was once described as “the jewel in the crown” for the security forces in Northern Ireland, was allegedly implicated in acts of murder and torture while heading the IRA’s mole-hunter teams.

Reports have widely named Freddie Scappaticci, 73, as “Stakeknife”, the man in charge of the IRA’s spy-catching unit that interrogated and killed members of the IRA accused of being informers. Since 2003, Scappaticci has denied he was Stakeknife.

Boutcher said on Wednesday he stood by comments he made to a parliamentary committee at the end of last month, during which he said he did not believe there would be many prosecutions for serious crimes connected to the Stakeknife scandal.

The former chief constable told MPs on the Northern Ireland grand committee: “It should never be the case that those responsible for crimes such as murder are protected by a lack of a thorough examination of the facts. Prosecutions are exceedingly challenging in legacy cases and I would expect them to be very much the exception.

“The starting point for legacy should be finding the truth for families of what happened. Families want to be listened to, acknowledged and for an investigation to take place that is an independent and robust search for the truth. They are generally realistic about the scope for seeing culprits brought to justice and punished and about the practical utility of such an exercise at this point in time.”

In his written evidence to MPs Boutcher said there were “significant legal and practical obstacles to bringing cases from so many years ago to the criminal courts now”.

He continued: “The passage of time impacts significantly on the capability to provide best evidence. We face evidential challenges in relation to fading memories, witnesses and suspects no longer being alive or well enough to provide evidence, be interviewed or stand trial and the continuity and completeness of records. There will inevitably be abuse of process and admissibility arguments in criminal proceedings relating to events from so long ago.”

He said the majority of families of victims of the state-compromised IRA internal security unit preferred to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones rather than seeing those responsible brought to trial.

“It has become apparent to me that most Operation Kenova families do not support prosecutions. The reasons for this can be complex. There will always be a spectrum of opinions, even with divergent views within families. Most relatives have told me they want the truth of what happened, in particular the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their loved ones’ deaths, rather than a criminal prosecution.

“The views of families must be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not a prosecution is in the public interest, should the evidence exist to support such a proceeding,” Boutcher said.

A spokesman for Boutcher said he stood by what he told MPs about the slim chances of prosecutions arising from his report.

A source within Operation Kenova said while large-scale prosecutions were unlikely, Boutcher’s report “contains everything that we have uncovered, all the facts and the findings, nothing will be covered up”.

Boutcher has previously rejected allegations that Stakeknife would not be brought to trial because he has damaging information on his military handlers and senior figures in the IRA and Sinn Féin, which might be disclosed in open court.

One former member of the IRA who was interrogated by Stakeknife’s internal security squad in the 1980s said he was “not in the least surprised” that the head of Operation Kenova believes there will not be any major criminal trial.

The Belfast republican, who was one of very few to talk his way out of an IRA interrogation under Stakeknife, said: “They were never going to let Stakeknife get into court because he knew too much, he knew who was pulling the strings and he knew where the bodies were buried.”


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