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No prosecutions to follow ‘Stakeknife’ investigation

No prosecutions are to be pursued following consideration of the final files from a major investigation into the British army’s top agent in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said it considered a large volume of material and information contained in six files submitted by Operation Kenova in respect of 12 individuals.

It concluded there is “insufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction” for any individual reported in relation to five incidents which happened between 1987 and 1994.

The agent Stakeknife worked in the IRA’s notorious “nutting squad”, interrogating suspected informers during the Troubles.

Operation Kenova examined crimes such as murder and torture linked to Stakeknife and the role played by the security services, including MI5.

West Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci, who was alleged to have been Stakeknife, died in 2023. He had always denied the claims.

Operation Kenova was headed up by Jon Boutcher, who wrote the report but has since recused himself from involvement in its publication after becoming chief constable of the PSNI.

The full report is expected to be published next week.

The decisions announced today by the PPS were the final phase of prosecution decisions concerning Operation Kenova.

The individuals reported in the final files included seven alleged to have been members of the Provisional IRA, and five retired soldiers who worked within the British army’s Force Research Unit (FRU).

Of the five former soldiers, three were described as having been agent handlers while two held more senior positions.

Jon Boutcher led Operation Kenova before he became PSNI chief constable

The decisions not to prosecutive were taken in relation to the abduction of a victim in 1987 who was released, the abduction and murder of one victim in 1988, the abduction and murder of one victim in 1989, the 1989 abduction of one victim who was released and the murder and abduction of one victim in 1994.

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Michael Agnew said the decisions were taken by an experienced team of senior prosecutors, who were assisted by independent counsel.

“The challenges encountered in this last phase of decisions, as before, included an absence of important source materials and legal difficulties in attempting to rely upon intelligence records as evidence that could be admitted in criminal proceedings,” he said.

“Having carefully considered the extent of the admissible evidence, it was concluded that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction in respect of any of the 12 individuals reported.

“In addition to the detailed public statement explaining the decisions taken in each of the cases, all victims and families connected to these five incidents have received an individual written explanation, along with an offer to meet in future to answer any questions they may have.”

Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron confirmed the PPS has now taken decisions in all 28 files submitted by Operation Kenova in relation to this investigation.

“I recognise the deep disappointment many victims and families will have at the decisions not to prosecute, and their continuing desire for information and accountability,” he said.

“In requesting the criminal investigation into Stakeknife and the conduct of those involved in running him as an agent, my predecessor Barra McGrory KC indicated that he did not take this step lightly but was concerned that serious offences may have been committed.

“It is right, therefore, that a rigorous and thorough examination was undertaken by the Operation Kenova team.

“It was only after all relevant material had been gathered, analysed and understood that the prospects of conviction could be determined.

“Each decision was carefully considered on an individual basis, as we have sought to demonstrate through the public explanations we have issued at each phase of decision-making. However, the value of the investigation should not be measured solely in terms of any prosecution decision outcome.”

Mr Herron added: “Operation Kenova sought to address communication with families in a more considerate and inclusive way and this has been widely welcomed.

“There is much about how they have approached their work that will serve as a model for any future legacy investigations. The victims and families have waited a number of years for the conclusion of these decisions.

“I regret that the PPS was not in a position to complete this work more quickly. This was in part due to the volume and complexity of the files, but also a result of the limited prosecutorial resources available to PPS for legacy work.

“I am mindful that an interim Operation Kenova report is to be published by the PSNI next week and is to be followed by individual reports to families who suffered a bereavement.

“I hope that these reports will demonstrate the wider value of Operation Kenova investigations in providing answers to families and also setting out a fuller context and narrative on what are no doubt very challenging and significant issues of understandable public interest.”


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