Northern Ireland news

Stakeknife investigators contact senior republicans about IRA murders

Freddie Scappaticci denies being the double agent Stakenife

A team of detectives investigating more than 40 murders alleged to be connected to IRA double agent Stakeknife is set to interview a number of high-profile republicans over the coming weeks.

Bedfordshire Police Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, who is heading Operation Kenova, will fly into Belfast at the start of December to interview former IRA members about murders linked to the informer, said to once be the 'jewel in the crown' of British military intelligence.

The Kenova team is investigating allegations of murder, kidnap and torture by the IRA and the role of military intelligence handlers during a period from the late 1970s until the early 1990s.

The Irish News understands that a number of high profile republicans, some connected to Sinn Féin, have received letters asking them to voluntarily present themselves for questioning by Kenova detectives, or risk being arrested.

In January 72-year-old west Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci was arrested and held for three days for questioning by the team about alleged involvement in dozens of murders.

Scappaticci fled west Belfast in 2003 after being named by the media as the agent known as Stakeknife.

He has admitted to being a republican but denied claims that he was an informer within the IRA.

West Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci

He is believed to have led the IRA's internal security unit, known as 'the nutting squad', which was responsible for interrogating suspected informers.

In many cases recordings of the victims were later released to their families.

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The grandson of an Italian immigrant, he is currently lives in an undisclosed location in England with the press banned from revealing his whereabouts or taking his picture.

Mr Boutcher has already visited Northern Ireland to talk to more than 30 families of those believed to have been murdered by, or whose deaths were in some way linked to or ordered by Stakeknife. His team is made up of 48 detectives.

Chief Constable of Bedfordshire police Jon Boutcher who is leading the Operation Kenova investigation. Picture by Hugh Russell.

This is the first time that former IRA members, some directly linked to the so called 'internal security' unit of the terror organisation, have been contacted directly for questioning by the team.

Some of those contacted have previously been questioned by the RUC about IRA activity linked to the abduction of alleged informers.

A spokesperson for the Operation Kenova team said they were "actively investigating a number of serious crimes the terms of reference which can be found on the Operation Kenova website. As these are very much ongoing live investigations it would not be appropriate, at this moment in time, to comment".

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