Stakeknife inquiry ends without any prosecutions of final 12 suspects

A seven-year police investigation into murders linked to the British army’s top agent inside the Provisional IRA has ended with no prosecutions.

The Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland said the final files reviewed by Operation Kenova yielded insufficient evidence to prosecute seven alleged IRA members and five former soldiers who worked with the army’s Force Research Unit. Three of the soldiers had been agent handlers and the other two were more senior.

The announcement signalled an anti-climactic and widely expected winding down of the saga known as Stakeknife, one of the most contentious cases of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

“The challenges encountered in this last phase of decisions, as before, included an absence of important source materials and legal difficulties in attempting to rely upon intelligence records as evidence that could be admitted in criminal proceedings,” said the deputy director of public prosecutions, Michael Agnew.

“Having carefully considered the extent of the admissible evidence, it was concluded that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction in respect of any of the 12 individuals reported.”

The announcement appeared to extinguish any chance that former soldiers and IRA members would face trial for crimes linked to the agent known as Stakeknife, widely believed to be Freddie Scappaticci, who headed an IRA informer-hunting unit known as “the nutting squad”.

The west Belfast man, who died last year aged 77, is said to have passed secrets to army handlers who allegedly turned a blind eye while he presided over the killing of suspected IRA informers.

Jon Boutcher, a former Bedfordshire police chief constable, launched Operation Kenova with a 50-strong team of detectives in 2016 to deliver justice and truth to families of the victims.

The announcement on Thursday meant that none of the 28 files submitted by Operation Kenova to prosecutors have led to prosecutions.

The director of public prosecutions, Stephen Herron, said he recognised the disappointment of victims’ families but said each decision had been carefully considered and explained to the families.

“The value of the investigation should not be measured solely in terms of any prosecution decision outcome. Operation Kenova sought to address communication with families in a more considerate and inclusive way and this has been widely welcomed.”

The investigation’s full report is to be published on 8 March, with individual reports given to victims’ families.

“I hope that these reports will demonstrate the wider value of Operation Kenova investigations in providing answers to families and also setting out a fuller context and narrative on what are no doubt very challenging and significant issues of understandable public interest,” said Herron.


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