"If I wanted to be popular I would have got a Labrador, " said Bedfordshire chief constable Jon Boutcher who is leading an investigation into one of the British army's most senior moles within the IRA, Freddie Scappaticci, the agent known as Stakeknife.
He is unlikely to be popular with the British security force establishment in all its manifestations considering how deep is his investigation into the dark secrets of Stakeknife.
During an interview, Mr Boutcher made clear that current and formers heads of MI5, British army generals and former PSNI and Royal Ulster Constabulary chief constables have, and are being asked to tell his team of detectives anything they know about the agent and the dirty war of "The Troubles".
They include, it is understood, the current MI5 director general, Sir Andrew Parker and former police chief constables Sir Hugh Annesley and Sir Ronnie Flanagan.
They and other senior former and current members of the British security force elite are co-operating with his investigation codenamed Operation Kenova.
Jewel in the crown
It is seeking to unravel how the British Army’s covert Force Research Unit (FRU) ran Stakeknife over a period of 25 years from the late 1970s to 2003 when he was exposed as an agent. He was once described as the “jewel in the crown” of the British intelligence system.
Stakeknife may have been implicated in up to 50 murders, it is alleged, particularly when he was head of the IRA’s internal security unit, the so-called “Nutting Squad” that hunted down informers.
The most disturbing element of that investigation is whether his FRU handlers permitted him to carry out killings in order to protect his identity.
It is believed that 72-year-old Scappaticci, who denies he is Stakeknife, decided to turn against his former IRA and Sinn Féin associates after he was beaten up by another senior IRA member in 1978, and that his annual remuneration was £80,000.
Mr Boutcher believes he is getting close to a position where sometime next year some former IRA members and former British army members will be charged in connection with the activities of Stakeknife. The informer, too, could be charged.
Mr Boutcher said he was conscious of the scepticism in some quarters about whether ultimately his £35 million investigation will lead to charges. Would a public interest immunity certificate not be slapped down as soon as there was any possibility of anyone being put in the dock - that British national security interests would be cited to prevent the full truth emerging?
“I will be furious if there aren’t (prosecutions), to be frank, but that is not my decision, the decision to prosecute is for the director of prosecutions,” he said.
“My job is to make it nigh on impossible for him not to agree to prosecute some of those involved, but it is his decision,” added Mr Boutcher.
He pointed out too how it was a former Northern Ireland DPP, Barra McGrory, QC, who called for the investigation into Stakeknife. He said, "I would suggest if it was felt by the then director that there was a public interest requirement for these matters to be investigated it would be an interesting position if when confronted with evidence there is a public interest decision not to prosecute."
“It is my challenge to make it an inevitable decision,” he said.
Mr Boutcher said he was not engaging in any “witchhunt” against former British soldiers but nonetheless said, “I will be presenting evidence against members of the Provisional IRA and the security forces.”
Burst the Myth
He added, “I think that we now have burst the myth that people are beyond prosecution or have immunity. Where we find criminality we will present the evidence and prosecute people. I can assure everyone that there is no impediment to me investigating or prosecuting anybody.”
The Operation Kenova detectives earlier this month successfully prosecuted Scappaticci for possession of extreme pornographic images, including images of bestiality. He was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.
Asked was this some sort of psychological attempt to spook Scappaticci Mr Boutcher replied, “No, he committed a crime. I deal with things in a very straight way.”
He said the “heroes of this whole investigation” were the bereaved relatives who finally breaching the dangerous republican code of omerta now were prepared to give evidence to see those responsible held to account.
It was such direct evidence, as well as forensic and DNA evidence that they also are helping provide, that would assist in revealing the truth behind Stakeknife, he was convinced.
“They know who took their loved ones,” he said. “They told us what they know. They have given us items, exhibits that previously have never been in the possession of the investigation, which will provide us with real opportunities,” he added.
A strong body of evidence is being built up, said the chief constable. “We have spoken to members of the IRA who have told us that they were present when people were taken and tortured,” he continued.
“We have also spoken to people from the IRA who themselves were taken and tortured, and told us who was involved in that,” he added.
“We have also spoken to members of the security forces who explained to us how records were removed to protect people from prosecution and indeed how records were created to protect people from prosecution.
“I am in a position now where we have made significant advances beyond people’s expectations. We have not been closed down as people expected us to be.”
“Nobody is out of reach,” he added. “The families feel they have a voice. They feel that they can now speak out. They now take the view that they don’t have to cross the street to avoid others. It is others that now rightfully should cross the streets to avoid them.”
Mr Boutcher appealed to anyone with information relevant to his inquiry to call the dedicated phone line 01234 858298 (from Republic 00441234 858298) or email email@example.com