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Scappaticci story brought into light by Operation Kenova

After years of investigation the decisions that there would be no prosecutions, when they came, were issued quickly.

Between December 2023 and February this year Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service announced that there was insufficient evidence to support a realistic prospect of convictions.

It had considered the evidence against 32 individuals, 16 former members of the IRA, 12 ex-military personnel, two members of the British Security Services, one police officer and one prosecutor.

The result in each case was that no charges were to be proffered.

The republicans had mostly been considered for charges relating to murder, conspiracy to murder, kidnapping and false imprisonment.

It was clear from detailed statements accompanying the PPS decisions that they had all had roles in the IRA’s internal security unit, its so-called “Nutting Squad”.

That was the informer hunting unit within the IRA, itself as it turned out, headed by the army’s top agent in the IRA, Freddie Scappaticci, codename Stakeknife.

The security force personnel who had been investigated had, for the most part, been from military intelligence.

They were handlers who had run agents and in one case a senior officer who had commanded the shadowy Force Research Unit, the army’s informer handling branch.

Read more: Operation Kenova: The key questions for the ‘Stakeknife’ inquiry

Their alleged offences had been that they had failed to share with police certain intelligence received from an agent inside the IRA’s internal security unit, Scappaticci, which related to imminent threats to life.

Again the decision was that there should be no prosecutions.

The difficulties in each case, republican and security forces, were broadly similar.

Records were incomplete, they were not always contemporaneous and could not be relied on in court, witnesses were not prepared to give statements. Intelligence could not be turned into evidence.

Missing from all this was the man at the centre of it.

Prosecutors were still assessing the case against him when Freddie Scappaticci died in April 2023

Freddie Scappaticci fled Belfast in 2003 when he was outed as an informer by the media and a former military handler.

Before he left he had tried to brazen it out, giving interviews to deny he was an agent.

He even went to court to try and force a British minister to publicly confirm he had not been working for the security services. He failed.

In 2018, aged 72, he was arrested by Kenova Inquiry detectives for questioning about his alleged involvement in multiple murders.

The following year, the inquiry team sent files to Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service outlining the evidence against him.

Prosecutors were still assessing the case against him when Scappaticci died in April 2023.

There was no formal confirmation that he had been the agent known as Stakeknife.

However, in the following days, the public was left in little doubt that they were one and the same person.

First, the Operation Kenova team issued a public statement saying they were working through the implications of his death for their casework.

“We recognise that people may now feel more able to talk to the Kenova Team following the death of Mr Scappaticci who had long been accused by many of being involved in the kidnap, murder and torture of potential IRA informants during the Troubles,” it said.

It was the clearest signal confirming what had long been speculated.

Two days later the Public Prosecution Service said it would not be issuing prosecutorial decisions in respect of an individual who had died.

They did not name Scapatticci.

However, they did say the individual who had died had been considered for prosecution in respect of ten files of evidence.

By dying he had managed to evade justice.

But after a lifetime in the shadows, the story of Freddie Scappaticci was finally being brought into the light.

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