Northern Ireland news

Freddie Scappaticci now facing more than 30 potential lawsuits over 'Stakeknife' investigation

Freddie Scappaticci denies being the IRA agent 'Stakeknife'

A west Belfast man who denies being Britain's former top spy inside the IRA is now facing more than 30 potential lawsuits, the High Court has heard.

Writs have been issued against Freddie Scappaticci in 24 separate cases, with legal action also threatened by a further seven individuals over alleged kidnappings and interrogations.

The increasing scale of litigation featuring the 72-year-old was revealed as police sought to protect material produced by a major probe into the notorious agent codenamed Stakeknife.

Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, who is heading the Operation Kenova investigation, believes he has uncovered evidence of criminal wrongdoing by both IRA and security force members.

A judge was told he now intends to submit a report for consideration on potential prosecutions either by the end of the year or early in 2020.

Scappaticci left Northern Ireland in 2003 after he was widely named in the media as Stakeknife, a British agent linked to dozens of murders.

Before quitting his home he vehemently denied being the spy in charge of the IRA's internal security team, the so-called 'Nutting Squad'.

He is being sued, along with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the PSNI, by Newry woman Margaret Keely.

She alleges that she was wrongfully arrested and held at Castlereagh police station in 1994 following an IRA attempt to murder a senior detective in east Belfast.

Mrs Keeley was released without charge, but claims she was then taken to a flat in the New Lodge area of the city and questioned by an IRA team.

Scappaticci was one of the men who carried out two debriefing sessions, according to her account.

In court yesterday, however, counsel for the MoD revealed the current total number of lawsuits against the alleged spy.

Tony McGleenan QC said: "There are 31 claims. Some have taken the form of correspondence (but) 24 writ actions have been issued.

"All of these name the second defendant (Scappaticci)."

Mr Justice Horner was told applications for closed material proceedings - so-called secret court hearings - are being considered for some of the cases due to issues of national security.

The new figure emerged as counsel for the police set out the case for ensuring all Operation Kenova's working papers are "ring fenced" from disclosure in the civil claims.

An investigative team of more than 60 police and civilian personnel has secured 1,000 statements and obtained 12,000 documents and exhibits comprising more than one million pages.

Detectives have conducted hundreds of non-evidential interviews and meetings, more than a hundred evidential interviews and dozens of interviews under caution.

The court heard the civil actions may have to be put on hold until decisions are taken on any prosecutions.

Adjourning proceedings, Mr Justice Horner acknowledged the potential further delay due to the issues raised.

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