Stakeknife inquiry: UK police pledge to find ‘elusive’ truth

John Boutcher to head Operation Kenova, examining activities of IRA double agent

Freddie Scappaticci, the former IRA leader alleged to have been a British agent, in 2003. Photograph: Pacemaker

Freddie Scappaticci, the former IRA leader alleged to have been a British agent, in 2003. Photograph: Pacemaker


The Bedfordshire police chief tasked with leading the investigation into the alleged activities of the British army’s most high-ranking agent in the IRA has said “the truth will be a difficult and elusive prey” but he is committed to finding it.

At PSNI headquarters in Belfast on Friday morning it was confirmed that Jon Boutcher will head up Operation Kenova, tasked with examining if there is evidence of collusion, murder, attempted murder, perjury and other criminal offences by the state agent “Stakeknife”, the British army, the security services or other government agencies.

Mr Boutcher said he did not underestimate the challenge he faced but was committed to finding the truth and aimed to bring those involved to justice.

He said he would follow the evidence, wherever it led him. This is expected to include looking at the IRA and its involvement in the 50 murders under investigation.

“My team and I will happily speak to anyone, including, but not limited to non-governmental organisations, whistle blowers, academics, investigative journalists, human rights specialists and crucially, and most importantly, the families of the victims,” he said.

West Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci fled Northern Ireland for Britain in 2003 after he was “outed” as the British agent known as Stakeknife, linked to the IRA’s fearsome punishment “Internal Security” unit known which reportedly tortured its victims, usually in abandoned buildings in the Republic, before killing them.

He has always denied the allegations.

Recruitment for the London-based investigation team began on Friday after the announcement was delayed by a day so it did not detract attention from the publication of the police ombudsman’s report into the Loughinisland massacre on Thursday, where collusion was identified.

The Operation Kenova team will be made up of 50-70 people from across law enforcement agencies but will not include those who have served in or are currently serving in the RUC, PSNI, Ministry of Defence or MI5.

The PSNI will fund the inquiry, which is expected to last up to five years at a cost of £5-7million per year, as chief constable George Hamilton did not receive a funding commitment from the department of justice or the Northern Ireland’s secretary Theresa Villiers.

The investigation comes after the Public Prosecution Service in the North made four referrals under section 35 of the Justice Act to the PSNI to investigate 50 linked murders and associated crimes.

Mr Hamilton said he recognises there was a perception it could lack practical independence and he felt it was better for the operation to be handled by an external investigation team.

“I believe this option contributes towards community confidence and reduces the impact on the PSNI’s ability to provide a policing service today,” he said.

On the possibility of collusion being identified, he said: “Let’s see where the investigation goes. All of the reporting on these matters to date indicate we are in a similar space. I have said all long that I, and this organisation, the PSNI today will act with integrity around all these. We will not defend the indefensible.”

Operation Kenova updates will be posted on the the website