Families hoping Stakeknife team will get further than previous inquiries

Posted By: December 27, 2018

ALLISON MORRIS Allison Morris. Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, December 27,  2018 
The investigation into the multiple murders allegedly committed by the MI5 agent known as Stakeknife has— much to the frustration of the detective tasked with leading it—been treated with a degree of skepticism.

After all, this is not the first probe of its kind, and to date, none have managed to deliver what they promised.

Senior Manchester police officer John Stalker had been asked to investigate the alleged ‘shoot to kill’ of Republicans by the RUC during the 1980s.

However, he was removed from the inquiry shortly before it was due to report in 1986.

Confidential state papers released a few years ago show that he confided to a diplomat that he had uncovered evidence of ‘six murders’ during his investigation into the conduct of the RUC.

Suspended over allegations of associating with criminals, he was later cleared of any wrongdoing and reinstated to his job as deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, but his report was never published.

The Stevens investigations—three government inquiries led by Sir John Stevens concerning collusion in Northern Ireland—also faced significant opposition.

From the outset, Stevens said he faced a concerted campaign to discredit his inquiry with compliant sections of the media fed with constant leaks about his work.

When in January 1990, the team persevered and gathered enough fresh evidence to arrest the British agent Brian Nelson, news of the arrest was leaked, and Nelson fled. On the same night, there was a fire at the team’s incident room within Seapark, the RUC’s Carrickfergus headquarters. Neither the smoke alarm nor the heat sensors had gone off, and the telephone lines had been cut.

Historical Enquiry Team detectives, again mainly officers hired from outside forces, came to Northern Ireland bringing with them new hope to previously abandoned families.

Every victim’s family they met reported being impressed with the team who provided regular updates and gave them real hope that they would finally get justice.

While some got answers in the form of detailed reports, justice in Northern Ireland is, it seems, always out of reach for many Troubles victims.

Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, tasked with investigating more than 40 murders committed by the IRA, is convinced this time is different, that the Operation Kenova team has already got access to information and people that the Stevens’ team got nowhere near.

“If they tell me I don’t need to speak to Witness A, I can assure you I will be talking to Witness A,” he told me last week.

The problems Mr. Boutcher faces are not just in relation to the state and reluctance to admit or give information about the actions of their operatives but also the myths that now surround Stakeknife, widely named as Freddie Scappaticci, who denies the allegation.

The killings the detective is investigating are horrific, they involve abduction, torture and forced confessions.

Many of the victims were told if they just confessed, they would be allowed to go home to their wives, their children, their parents.

They never did. Being labeled as an informer meant many of the families faced stigma and stayed silent for decades.

The murder victims’ ‘confessions’ were recorded, or they were told to write letters to their families. Can you imagine that, the terrified voice of your loved one speaking from the grave?

The confessions were gathered like a serial killer’s calling card, gruesome, sadistic.

It took a few brave souls to speak out to give others the confidence to do likewise.

Frank Mulhern was one of the first.

His son Joseph Mulhern (23) was abducted, interrogated and shot by the IRA, who accused him of being a police informer. His body was dumped on a remote hillside near Castlederg, Co Tyrone in 1993.

Families like the Mulherns are concerned. They’ve seen this type of investigation before, they’ve heard the promises that no one to date has been able to keep.

Boutcher seems determined to deliver and has said the story of Operation Kenova will be published in a full report for the families.

It will be a document that should if it delivers, shame all of those Republicans or British intelligence which allowed a killer to act with impunity and a State that sacrificed its own citizens for what? I doubt even Boutcher will be able to answer that question.

We look back at these horrific events because families need answers but also because the peace we now enjoy came at a heavy price.

We must remember so as we never repeat the past and so our children never have to endure it.

A peaceful New Year to you all.