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Stakeknife: friend of Gerry Adams unmasked as top mole

Freddie Scappaticci who denies allegations that he was the British agent Stakeknife

THE unmasking of Freddie Scappaticci 12 years ago as notorious British agent Stakeknife was one of the biggest stories to emerge from the Troubles.

Newspaper reports named the west Belfast man as the high-ranking mole within the IRA and claimed he had been flown out of Northern Ireland under the protection of the British army.

Trusted by senior republicans and a friend of Gerry Adams, his unmasking by the press was a huge embarrassment to the republican movement.

He initially quit his west Belfast home after his name was made public in May 2003, only to return home around 48 hours later, professing his innocence in a brief press conference.

He said later in an interview that he had immediately contacted then Sinn Féin lord mayor of Belfast Alex Maskey, who advised him to get a lawyer. "The people in Sinn Féin pointed out that the first 48 hours are vital," he said at the time. "So we decided the next day to issue a statement, pointing out the facts."

Scappaticci continued to deny the allegations, even going so far as to take a judicial review to force then security minister Jane Kennedy to confirm he was not the agent alleged to have supplied the British army with high-grade intelligence.

He fled to Italy the following March, shortly before he was sue to appear in court to appeal that decision.

A senior security source revealed that Scappaticci had been warned that his life was in imminent danger from republicans angered by a cascade of revelations about his double life earning up to £80,000 a year as an informer.

He was the highest ranking member of the IRA to be uncovered as a British agent.

Scappaticci rapidly rose through the IRA's structures to become its northern head of security - the infamous 'Nutting Squad' -- and one of its most senior and feared leaders. In 1971, he was interned with his brother Umberto in Long Kesh, where he is said to have become close to Mr Adams, pictured.

Ironically, his role meant he vetted every IRA member and hunted down and interrogated all suspected informers.

However, in 1978 he suffered a vicious beating following an argument with a senior Belfast IRA figure and it is claimed that, hungry for revenge, Freddie Scappaticci then decided to become a British army informer.

In the early 1990s, Scappaticci scaled down his involvement in the IRA, citing a heart condition.

It was the revelation that security forces had colluded in the 1987 murder of Francisco Notorantonio which led to the allegation that a mole codenamed Stakeknife existed within the IRA.

It was alleged that Britain's most senior intelligence chiefs had sanctioned the killing to protect their agent, who was being targeted by the UFF.

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