British security forces allowed murders to be carried out and go unpunished, damning inquiry finds

Operation Kenova concludes that more lives were lost than saved due to the actions of the double-agent Stakeknife

British security forces allowed murders to be carried out and go unpunished to protect its agents in the Provisional IRA, according to a damning inquiry into the British army’s top IRA spy during the Troubles.

After seven years and at a cost of £40 million, Operation Kenova was published yesterday and laid bare the British state’s mishandling of the double-agent regarded as its “golden egg” by concluding that more lives were lost than saved due to the actions of the mole codenamed Stakeknife.

Delivering the interim findings of the 208-page report in a Belfast hotel, its author Jon Boutcher said the idea that a “blind eye” would be turned to the criminal activities of agents so long as they continued to provide information is something that would be “never, ever allowed today”.

He described the actions of the PIRA’s internal security unit or so-called nutting squad, overseen by the agent widely identified as Freddie Scappaticci, as the “most shameful and evil I have ever encountered”.


Mr Boutcher, now the Chief Constable for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), would not be drawn on the number of deaths connected to Stakeknife that could have been prevented, had the security forces intervened.

He told reporters that he wanted to provide this information to families first and said it would be available in the final Kenova report, due to be published later this year.

However, the inquiry rubbished claims that Stakeknife had saved hundreds of lives, stating the real figure was more likely to be between high single figures and low double figures.

Scappaticci is not named in the report due to a UK government policy of “neither confirm nor deny” (NCND) relating to sensitive intelligence issues.

Mr Boutcher said that while he understood the importance of protecting agents’ identities, he hoped that Stakeknife will be named in the final report, as an “exception” to the policy.

He also expressed disappointment at the decision by the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) not to press charges in relation to the Kenova investigation due to what the PPS said was “insufficient evidence”.

The interim report recommends that the UK government and IRA issue apologies to victims.

Asked about the matter by reporters, Sinn Féin vice president and Stormont First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “I am sorry for every single loss of life and that is without exception. That’s for every person who was hurt or impacted by our conflict.”

She said an apology from the UK Government “should be forthcoming”.

However, Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said it “would not be right for the government to make any comment on the substance of the interim report until the conclusion of litigation related to it.”

Operation Kenova also called for a designated day – June 21st the longest day of the year - to remember those “lost, injured or harmed as a result of the Troubles”.

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times