Sixteen people investigated as part of inquiry into British agent Stakeknife will not be prosecuted

Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service says there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to pursue convictions

Sixteen people investigated as part of an inquiry into the activities of the British army’s top agent in Northern Ireland during the Troubles will not be prosecuted.

The North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced on Wednesday there was “insufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction”.

Prosecutors considered five files relating to 16 individuals reported to them by Operation Kenova, which is investigating the activities of Freddie Scappaticci, alleged to be the agent, Stakeknife.

The decisions not to prosecute were taken in relation to nine alleged members of the Provisional IRA – three in connection with a murder in 1981, two regarding a murder in 1987, two relating to a 1993 murder, and two in connection with the false imprisonment of, and conspiracy to murder, one victim in January 1990.


One police officer and six military personnel were also considered in connection with allegations of perverting the course of justice and misconduct in public office.

The PPS said it had anonymised the cases investigated “on the advice of Operation Kenova after consultation with the victims and families involved” to minimise the potential for re-traumatisation.

The former head of the IRA’s internal security unit, known as the “Nutting Squad”, Scappaticci was regarded as the “jewel in the crown” of British military intelligence in Northern Ireland and is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of at least 20 people.

Scappaticci, who always denied he was Stakeknife, died earlier this year. He was a suspect in all but one of the five files considered by the PPS, but because he is now dead no decisions have, or can be, issued regarding his alleged criminality.

An interim report which will deliver the findings of Operation Kenova’s investigation into the alleged activities of Stakeknife is expected to be published early next year.

The PPS has yet to make decisions on 10 files relating to 21 individuals reported to them as part of Operation Kenova, with an announcement expected early next year.

In a detailed explanation of its decision-making process, the PPS outlined a summary of the evidence available in each case, the general evidential challenges that had arisen and the reasons for its conclusions.

While it said there was a “considerable amount of relevant intelligence material” there were “insurmountable difficulties” in using it as evidence. However, it noted that this material “may be of assistance of investigators in understanding what has happened in a particular case and in providing answers to the questions that families and victims may have about their case”.

In relation to cases involving murder, the Operation Kenova team is expected to provide the relatives of the victims with a report.

Stephen Herron, the North’s Director of Public Prosecutions, said he acknowledged the decisions “will be a reminder of the painful and harrowing circumstances of how some Operation Kenova families lost a loved one, and we are seeking to minimise any further trauma caused by revisiting these cases publicly”.

“I can assure victims, families and the wider public, that all prosecution decisions were taken carefully, impartially and wholly independently,” he said.

“The challenges in prosecuting legacy cases are well known. The events with which these decisions are concerned took place several decades ago and the witness and forensic evidence available was limited.”

Iain Livingston, the head of Operation Kenova, acknowledged the PPS’s decision and said it was “important to clarify that the individuals being considered for prosecution in these files were supplementary to the main focus of the operation – the activities of an alleged army agent code-named Stakeknife”.

“Kenova considers that we have gathered strong and compelling evidence in relation to that individual. Such evidence has been passed to the PPS and will form the basis of our interim and final reports,” he said.

“We have spoken to the families affected by these decisions to reaffirm our absolute determination to deliver the truth regarding what happened to their loved ones.”

Solicitor Kevin Winters of KRW Law, who represents families affected, said they would seek a review of the decisions by the PPS, but it was not a surprise given Mr Scappaticci was now dead. He said the announcement “upscales pressure” on the Operation Kenova team “to deliver answers for families and other victims via its long-awaited public-facing report.”

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times