Northern Ireland

Kenova set the benchmark for legacy investigations – Boutcher

Jon Boutcher (Liam McBurney/PA)
Jon Boutcher (Liam McBurney/PA) Jon Boutcher (Liam McBurney/PA)

Operation Kenova “set the benchmark” for investigations into Northern Ireland’s troubled past, Jon Boutcher has said.

The current Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable previously headed up the £37 million probe into the activities of Stakeknife, a top Army agent within the Provisional IRA.

On Wednesday, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced it would not be pursuing prosecutions after considering five files concerning 16 individuals – including one police officer and six military personnel.

In total, the PPS received 26 files in relation to the operation.

It previously ruled out the prosecution of four individuals reported, and earlier this year it announced a formal no decision outcome in relation to 10 of the files as they contained just one suspect who died in 2023.

West Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci, who was alleged to have been Stakeknife, died in 2023. He had always denied the claims.

Decisions in relation to 21 individuals across 10 further files are expected to be announced in early 2024.

The families of some of the victims touched by the investigation have indicated they will seek a review of the decisions taken by the PPS.

Mr Boutcher handed over the Kenova report before he took up the post of PSNI chief constable, but said the operation will always be important to him, adding he spoke with three of the families involved on Wednesday.

He insisted the prosecution decisions are the “periphery”, saying the focus of Kenova was the alleged agent Stakeknife who has now died.

“That was the investigation, and the families, and there are some 238 families across a number of investigations, this is a tiny element that we’re talking about in the decisions yesterday, have already spoken incredibly highly about the information they’ve been given and the way they have been treated,” he told media in Belfast on Thursday.

“This is how to do legacy.”

Mr Boutcher said Kenova has been “referenced repeatedly” in the House of Commons and Lords where the controversial Legacy Act was passed earlier this year.

The Act has been opposed by most political parties and victims as well as the Irish government.

Mr Boutcher said Kenova “set the benchmark”, and was quoted as the way forward by former chief justice Sir Declan Morgan who is leading a new body established in the act.

He also stressed that not all the prosecution decisions have yet been taken.

“All the decisions have not yet been taken by the Public Prosecution Service but I will speak more about this when the report comes out,” he said.

“There are issues around how legacy is addressed here that goes across all the constituent parts of the criminal justice system. I set that out in the report.

“We have failed families for 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

“The families yesterday have had information given to them about what happened to their loved ones, they have been listened to, they have been respected and they’re not shouting out against the decisions yesterday.

“Some of those families didn’t want prosecutions because the implications for them personally if those prosecutions had occurred.

“So lets just put this in context and not sensationalise it.. The PPS have done their job, they have two thresholds to achieve, there is an evidential test that is reached and is it in the public interest, and on those tests they made decisions not to prosecute. They have taken some time to do that and I think that the rest of the decision will come in the very early part of the new year. That’s good news because then we can move forward with regards speaking to families in more detail and give them their final reports.”