UK government considers apology to families of alleged informers killed by IRA

British security forces allowed murders to be carried out with impunity to protect agents, Operation Kenova interim report found

independent report on the high-ranking double agent Stakeknife - widely identified as senior Belfast IRA member Freddie Scappaticci - has taken seven years and cost approximately £40 million.

The UK government is considering an apology to the families of alleged informers killed by the IRA during the Troubles, according to the head of the investigation into the activities of the British agent, Stakeknife.

Iain Livingston, who heads Operation Kenova, told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster that “the [UK] government at this time, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and others are looking at the issue regarding the need for an apology and that recognition.”

Answering questions on Tuesday about the interim report on the Kenova investigation, which was published last month, he said he had “a very active engagement with the Cabinet Office” regarding the report’s recommendations, and he believed they were taking them “very seriously.”

The interim report found British security forces allowed murders to be carried out with impunity to protect its agents in the Provisional IRA and concluded more lives were lost than saved due to the actions of Stakeknife, widely understood to be Freddie Scappaticci.


Also giving evidence to the committee, the former head of Operation Kenova, Jon Boutcher – now the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) – emphasised the importance of apologies and highlighted “the lack of acknowledgment or specific apology from the republican movement into the detail of these cases”.

“They could show a different face by actually doing that sort of apology,” he said.

He also said he would “certainly expect” the UK authorities “to give the sort of apology that I think people in the security forces and the British government know is probably owed to these families.”

The UK government policy of “neither confirm nor deny” in relation to sensitive intelligence issues was also raised during the two-and-a-half-hour-long session, with Mr Boutcher saying that “refusing to in any way concede any information, even internally, to legally constituted commissioned investigations ... has fed this narrative of collusion and conspiracy.”

A review of the policy around neither confirming nor denying was among the recommendations of the interim Kenova report.

Mr Boutcher said he had substantial experience in this field and “what I find when I’ve looked at all the information is that generally it doesn’t prove there was any collusion or conspiracy, it shows that often the security forces did a great job.

“But, where there is a problem, do not hide it.”

He said he was “at odds here with the Secretary of State, that we can give some information,” adding, “saying you can’t investigate a crime any further because there is an agent involved, that is poppycock, that is not right.”

Mr Boutcher said the application of neither-confirm-nor-deny in Northern Ireland had “restricted previous chief constables and investigators” and was “like an anchor that holds us back.”

All he was asking for, he said, was for the policy to be reviewed and recodified in the context of the Northern Ireland Troubles, and nobody who commits murders should be protected by the policy of [neither confirm nor deny].”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times