Britain’s top IRA spy probably cost more lives than he saved, inquiry says

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - BELFAST, March 8 — The actions of a senior British informer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) codenamed “Stakeknife” probably cost more lives than they saved in Northern Ireland’s sectarian conflict, an independent inquiry found today.

The nationalist IRA, which opposed British rule in the province, was responsible for more than half the 3,600 deaths during three decades of guerrilla conflict, which were largely ended by a peace accord in 1998.

Operation Kenova’s interim report found that British security forces were frequently aware of imminent abductions and murders, yet failed to protect those at risk.

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As a result, it said, murders that should have been prevented were allowed to take place, and those responsible were left free to reoffend.

“This report leaves little doubt that the Republican leadership was responsible for numerous dreadful crimes, many of which the government failed to prevent,” former Kenova lead Jon Boutcher said.

Boutcher led the eight-year probe before becoming head of Northern Ireland’s police last year. He presented the findings to reporters alongside his successor, former Scottish police chief Iain Livingstone.

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The 212-page report did not reveal the identity of the agent alleged to have belonged to the IRA’s feared “Nutting Squad”, which interrogated suspected informers.

Freddie Scappaticci, a Belfast man who died last year, denied being “Stakeknife” but lost a legal bid to force British ministers to state that he had not been a double agent.

The report said it was well known that Scappaticci had been a member of the IRA’s internal security unit.

‘Stakeknife’ to be named within months

Before his death, prosecutors were considering Kenova files with strong indications that Scappaticci committed serious crimes, the report added.

Boutcher said he expected the British government to let him name “Stakeknife” in Kenova’s final report, to be published in several months after affected families are contacted.

The Northern Ireland leader of Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA that now heads the province’s government, said she was sorry for all lives lost during the conflict, “without exception”.

“I am wholeheartedly committed to healing the wounds of the past,” Michelle O’Neill, who became the first Irish nationalist to be appointed Northern Irish First Minister last month, told a news conference.

The report said the number of lives saved by “Stakeknife” was between high single figures and low double figures, far less than widely believed in the security forces.

“It is likely that his crimes as an agent resulted in more lives being lost than were saved,” the report concluded.

While stating that responsibility for the torture and murder lay with the IRA, the report highlighted the lack of a legal framework to govern agents, whose work was sometimes seen as a high-stakes “dark art” practised “off the books”.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said its handling and dissemination of intelligence had been thoroughly reformed.

Kenova investigators have recommended that more than 30 alleged paramilitaries, former police and ex-members of the intelligence and security forces should face criminal charges.

But the Public Prosecution Service said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

Britain’s Northern Ireland minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, said the government could not comment on the report until related civil litigation was over. — Reuters

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