Northern Ireland

Widow of man falsely accused of being IRA informer to take legal action against PPS

Comes as Operation Kenova Stakeknife report to be launched in Belfast

Anthony Braniff
Anthony Braniff

The widow of a man falsely accused of being an IRA informer is set to take legal action over a failure by prosecutors to consider offences at a “corporate or governmental level” within the RUC and British army.

The threat of action by Mary Braniff came after she asked the Public Prosecution Service to review a decision not to prosecute anyone.

Three suspects, one of which has since died, had been identified in the case.

News of the development came ahead of the publication of a long-awaited Operation Kenova interim report into the activities of British army agent Stakeknife on Friday.

Ms Braniff’s former husband, Anthony Braniff (22), was shot dead in west Belfast by the IRA in September 1983 after being branded an informer.

According to a statement issued by the PPS last month a person identified as ‘The Source’, believed to be British army agent Freddie Scappaticci, was involved in an initial interrogation of Mr Braniff, who was given the cipher Victim H, before he was released.

In 2003 Scappaticci was named by the media as the notorious agent.

He was a former commander of the IRA’s Internal Security Unit (ISU), which was responsible for hunting down and killing suspected informers and agents.

The PPS statement adds that there was nothing to indicate The Source was involved in a second period of imprisonment and interrogation of Mr Braniff in the period before he was killed.

Intelligence material suggests The Source was aware Mr Braniff was going to be killed and made attempts to identify where he was being held.

It is claimed he provided information to his handlers, which was then passed to police “who made attempts to disrupt any planned execution”, which were unsuccessful.

In total 32 people were referred to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in connection with 28 files submitted by the Operation Kenova investigation team.

However, prosecutors have decided no action will be taken against any of them.

Operation Kenova was set up in 2016 to investigate the activities of agent Stakeknife, who was handled by the British army’s Force Research Unit.

Freddie Scappaticci
Freddie Scappaticci

A native of Ardoyne in north Belfast, Mr Braniff’s body was found in an entry off Odessa Street, in the Falls Road.

After the father-of-three was killed, the IRA claimed he had been recruited as an RUC informer several weeks earlier.

The claim was later disputed by relatives and the RUC denied he was working for them.

In 2003 the IRA released details of an investigation into the circumstances around Mr Braniff’s death.

In a statement the paramilitary group said it found evidence to support the claims made against him.

The IRA went on to say that Mr Braniff had agreed to work for Special Branch after being interviewed in Castlereagh RUC station but reported this to the organisation when he was released.

The IRA later said no appeal was lodged after the decision was taken to kill him and that it accepted that “proper procedure was not adhered to in relation to the process of appeal”.

In recent correspondence to the PPS, Ms Braniff’s solicitor Kevin Winters, of KRW Law, raised concerns about the case and asked for a review.

He set out that an intelligence oversight body known as Tasking and Co-ordinating Group (TCG) was made aware that Mr Braniff has been suspended from the IRA on September 22, 1981.

Led by RUC Special Branch, TCGs included MI5 and elements of the British army, including the Force Research Unit.

On Sunday, September 27 TCG became aware that Mr Braniff was being held and had been sentenced to death and was due to be killed that night.

“The actions of military and police did not prevent Anthony Braniff’s murder,” the correspondence states.

Speaking to the Irish News, Mr Winters said “from what we can see the PPS have not given any consideration to assessment of criminal offending at a corporate or governmental level”.

“This case like so many others is crying out for an immediate review of strict criminal liability failings on health and safety grounds,” he said.

“We asked the PPS to look at this three weeks ago and still await a response.”

Mr Winters said legal action will now be taken.

“Given the ever shortening time period within which to action this before the deadline of May 1 we are now left with no choice but to take a judicial review challenge,” he said.

“It’s disappointing that yet again despite the wealth of information unearthed by Kenova that families are having to resort to litigation like this.”

A spokesman for the PPS said: ”The PPS can confirm that it has received and acknowledged a request to review the decision of no prosecution in this case, in line with the PPS Code for Prosecutors.

“We are carefully considering the legal points raised in correspondence from the family’s legal representatives, and we will update the family in due course.”