Northern Ireland

Chilling last words of accused informer following interrogation by the IRA’s British agent-infiltrated ‘nutting squad’

Widow of Johnny Dignam, abducted, interrogated and shot dead in 1992, does not believe he was an RUC informer

Johnny Dignam, abducted and murdered by the IRA along with two other men in 1992. BBC
Johnny Dignam, abducted and murdered by the IRA along with two other men in 1992. BBC

The last words of former republican prisoner Jimmy Dignam, accused of being an informer and executed by the IRA’s so-called “nutting squad”, are heard in a new documentary broadcast ahead of the publication of the Operation Kenova report.

But his widow Claire is still unable to bear hearing his voice more than three decades after he and two others were abducted, interrogated and shot dead, their naked bodies dumped on the side of a road.

She also revealed that following his death, an attempt was made by the British Army to recruit her as an informer, a suggestion that “horrified” her in the midst of the trauma of losing her husband.

The tape, parts of which are heard on ‘Our Dirty War: The British State and the IRA’, begins with the banging of a pan before the 32-year-old Portadown man starts his June/July 1992 confession that he was recruited as an RUC informer.

Our Dirty War will be broadcast on BBC NI this evening and on BBC iPlayer
Our Dirty War will be broadcast on BBC NI this evening and on BBC iPlayer

“My name is Johnny Dignam from Portadown. I am aged 32. I told the police handlers I was on a weapons training camp in Limerick,” he can be heard saying.

“I told the police of the killing of Margaret Perry. I told them of local members of the IRA that I was involved with.” Margaret Perry, 26, was abducted and killed in June 1991, allegedly by Gregory Burns and Aidan Starrs, with Dignam helping to rebury the body in Co Sligo.

If true, and he was recruited as an informer by the RUC Special Branch after revealing details of Ms Perry’s murder, then it would appear officers were more interested in recruitment than investigating a murder. Ms Perry’s body was only recovered following the IRA interrogation of the three men.

Jon Boutcher will address the conference
PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, former head of Operation Kenova w (Liam McBurney/PA)

As journalist Peter Taylor begins to play the tape to Mr Dignam’s wife, she breaks down, puts her hands over the ears and says: “Oh no, I don’t want to hear that. I don’t know if I can cope with that.” Mrs Dignam does not believe her husband was an informer.

The documentary also questions the protection afforded to alleged informers and agents despite assurances they would be looked after at every stage.

Few were rescued once they were in the hands of the IRA’s internal security unit (ISU), led for many years led by two alleged British agents, Freddie Scappaticci and John Joe Magee, both deceased.

The former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, told Mr Taylor that while protection was the intent it could be “a very, very tricky operation” to rescue an agent.

Operation Kenova, until recently headed by the now PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, is an investigation into Scappaticci, the ISU and links to British Army intelligence, including the Force Research Unit (FSU).

However, the programme notes that while Scappaticci refused to answer any questions from the Operation Kenova team prior to his death last year, others involved in the interrogation and murder of Burns, Starrs and Dignam may well be still alive and have information.

It is unclear whether Scappaticci was involved in the interrogation of the three men as he was under suspicion at the time from elements within the IRA. He is reported to have been living in the south and only returned to Belfast in late 1992, after which he was removed from the ISU.

Alan Lewis -           8-2-2024
Alfredo Scappaticci the former provisional IRA informer codenamed Stakeknife.
The PPS today said thatas a result of Operation Kenova there would be no prosecutions mounted against four people including 2 former military intelligence officers and two IRA members.
Freddie Scappaticci (Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast/Photopress Belfast)

In a letter to his then pregnant wife, Dignam wrote he had only “hours to live my life.

“I only wish I could see you and the kids one last time. I have done nothing but think of you. Tears are streaming down my face. Pray for me, look after my grave and visit when you can. Cherish this lock of hair and letter for the rest of your life,” he added.

Our Dirty War: The British State and The IRA will be broadcast on BBC NI at 10.40pm on Monday and is on BBC iPlayer