Crime & LawAnalysis

Kenova report: Many families whose loved ones killed by IRA’s ‘nutting squad’ still feel shunned

Report shows failings of state agents who put lives at risks and exposes ‘maverick culture’ in British intelligence

In the grand ballroom of a Belfast hotel, one group of people was notably absent at the unveiling of a report on the British army’s top IRA spy during the Troubles.

Despite being dedicated to the “many victims” and survivors of the double-agent Stakeknife, no family members of those victims were present to hear the damning findings of the seven-year Operation Kenova investigation – one with which they had closely co-operated and played a key role.

This was fundamentally their report telling the stories of their loved ones who were abducted, tortured and murdered by the IRA’s so-called “nutting squad” for the “crime” of being an informer, when many in fact were not.

It lays bare the failings of state agents who put lives at risks and exposes a “maverick culture” among British intelligence officers who sometimes revelled in their role of agent handling as “high-stakes dark art” practised “off the books”.


It credits the “strength and dignity” of families for sharing their stories and ultimately concludes that more lives were cost than saved by the British military’s “golden egg” agent.

Yet, as one lawyer put it on Friday morning, the “stigma of the tout runs deeps in Irish history” and is “manifest here today when families feel uncomfortable attending their own report”.

Page after page alludes to the alienation and suffering experienced by families, many of whom lived in republican areas, and were ostracised and faced “entirely unjustified” backlashes by some members out of their communities arising out of a “sickening belief” that their loved ones “deserved to die”.

Marital break-ups, addiction and long-standing physical and psychological illnesses have been experienced by those survivors of the IRA’s internal security unit, overseen by Freddie Scappaticci, widely believed to be Stakeknife, but who is not named in the report.

Even today, decades after their relatives’ deaths and 26 years on from the Belfast Agreement, the report’s author Jon Boutcher said that many families have asked him not to publicise their engagement with the Kenova team for fear of “unwanted media attention and renewed community action”.

Delivering his findings to a half-empty ballroom made up of journalists, photographers and press officers, Boutcher – now chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) – insisted that the “over-riding mission” of Kenova was to deliver “the truth to legacy families about what happened to their loved ones”.

For the small number of relatives who were prepared to speak – albeit away from the television cameras – the impact of the Kenova investigation has been profound.

Shauna Moreland, who was just ten-years-old when her 34-year-old mother Caroline was murdered by the IRA in 1994, said the inquiry team had given her mother “an identity” and that she was “no longer a statistic”.

Seamus Kearney, the brother of the first victim linked to Stakeknife, Michael Kearney, said he “never thought there was such a thing as closure” but Kenova had finally delivered it for him and his family.

A designated day of remembrance on the longest day of the year has been recommended by Operation Kenova to remember those “lost, injured or harmed as a result of the Troubles”.

While many of those Kenova families who were shunned by their communities still feel too embarrassed to speak publicly, it is only right that society acknowledges their suffering and bravery this June on the summer solstice.