Stakeknife: key points from investigation into army’s prized IRA spy

Operation Kenova, the seven-year investigation by senior police officer Jon Boutcher, focused on Stakeknife, the army’s prized spy within the IRA’s so-called “nutting squad”. It examined 101 associated murders and abductions linked to this unit, which was responsible for interrogating and torturing people suspected of passing information to the security forces during the conflict.

These are the key findings:

  • The army’s claim that Stakeknife saved hundreds of lives was implausible, “rooted in fables and fairytales” and should have rung alarm bells.

  • It was probable that the handling of Stakeknife “resulted in more lives being lost than saved”. The report found that in some cases agents did save lives, but it added: “Even if it were possible accurately and reliably to say that a particular agent within a terrorist group did more good than harm, the morality and legality of agents doing any harm – with the knowledge of or on behalf of the state – are very different matters.”

  • Stakeknife was involved in “very serious and wholly unjustifiable criminality, including murder”.

  • Lives were lost due to “absolutist approach to agent anonymity”. It identified several cases of murder where the security forces had advance intelligence but did not intervene in order to protect sources.

  • The report offered no comment on whether Stakeknife was Freddie Scappaticci from west Belfast who died in March 2023. The government’s policy of neither confirming nor denying in relation to the identity of state agents prevented Operation Kenova from naming Stakeknife. It should be reviewed, the report said.

  • Scappaticci was arrested as part of the Kenova operation and prosecutors were examining evidence of serious criminality against him at the time of his death.

  • Speculations that Scappaticci is still alive are “unhelpful”. The investigation independently verified his death from natural causes after an illness.

  • The treatment of victims’ families by the security forces was “entirely unacceptable”. It said the UK government should apologise to families in “cases where an individual was harmed or murdered because they were accused or suspected of being an agent”.

  • The Republican leadership should apologise to the victims of the IRA internal security unit and the subsequent hostile treatment of their loved ones.

  • A lack of legal framework to govern the use of agents during the Troubles created a “maverick culture” where agent handling was considered a high-stakes “dark art” that was practised “off the books”.

  • Security forces repeatedly withheld and did not act on information about threats to life, abductions and murders in order to protect agents from compromise. “There was a strong security force culture of withholding information,” it said.

  • Recommendations included review and reform of the justice system in Northern Ireland, including resourcing of its Public Prosecution Service, should be undertaken to speed up progress of legacy cases.

  • 21 June should be designated as a day of reflection each year for all the lives lost during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

  • The message to bereaved families who long suspected state intervention in the death of their loved is “you are not mad, this was happening and it should not have been”.