Northern Ireland news

Outside police force to probe Stakeknife claims

Relatives of people murdered by the agent known as Stakeknife including the family of single mother Caroline Moreland, who was abducted and murdered in 1994. Picture by Hugh Russell

A leading lawyer has said the Chief Constable needs to confirm that adequate resources will be set aside to investigate the activities of a top IRA agent linked to more than 20 murders.

Kevin Winters was speaking after a High Court judge was told that PSNI chief George Hamilton had decided detectives from outside Northern Ireland should carry out the 'Stakeknife' probe.

Police are to investigate 24 murders that the informer - who was said to head up the IRA's 'internal security' unit - was allegedly involved in, although that figure could rise as high as 50.

A judge was told yesterday that Mr Hamilton's "preferred option" is to have officers from another force probe claims about the British army's prized intelligence asset.

Confirmation came during a legal action being mounted by the family of a Belfast woman killed by the IRA.

Caroline Moreland, a 34-year-old Catholic mother-of-three, was abducted and murdered in July 1994 for being an alleged British informer.

Her children are seeking to secure a wide-ranging investigation into the full circumstances surrounding a series of killings stretching back to the 1980s and attributed to the IRA's internal security team.

In October Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory called for police to examine Stakeknife's activities, along with what was known by RUC Special Branch and MI5.

Although relatives of those allegedly killed by the IRA's so-called 'nutting squad' have backed that move, they are opposed to the PSNI taking charge.

At a previous hearing it was claimed that west Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci was permitted to engage in the campaign in order to strengthen his position as a British spy.

Scappaticci left Ireland in 2003 when he was identified by the media as Stakeknife. He vehemently denying being the agent.

Counsel for the Moreland family argue that police with no ties to Northern Ireland should carry out the investigation.

During an earlier stage in the case it was claimed that relatives of up to 50 murder victims are waiting for answers.

In court yesterday a barrister representing the PSNI confirmed the decision reached on how the inquiry should be handled.

Paul McLaughlin said: "The Chief Constable, I'm instructed, has identified a preferred option for dealing with (Barra McGrory's) request, which involves bringing in external police officers.

"He's at present engaged in discussions with the Policing Board about how to take that forward."

The Department of Justice and Secretary of State are also to be consulted on how the move can be funded.

But with the plans not yet finalised, a judicial review hearing remains listed for next month.

Sean Devine, for the Moreland family said; "There's still a significant issue about independence and the investigation having the confidence of the public given the subject matter."

Mr Justice Maguire agreed to hear the case again in four weeks time.

Outside court Mrs Moreland's daughter, Shauna, said the family have not yet been told anything definite.

"We are hopeful, but we will wait and see," she said.

Kevin Winters of KRW Law, who represents a number of the families, said that while they welcomed the development they need "clarification on the details of the investigation".

"Firstly we need assurances that this investigation will be totally independent and secondly that it will be adequately resourced," he said.

"To date we have received no details on either of those points."

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