A former commander of UK Land Forces has confirmed that Britain’s most valuable spy in the IRA was, indeed, Freddie Scappaticci — a member of the IRA’s feared internal security team codenamed ‘Stakeknife’.
Scappaticci denied being a British agent before leaving Northern Ireland in 2003, although he admitted to being an “active republican”.
“He was our most important secret,” said General Sir John Wilsey, who was Army commander in Northern Ireland from 1990 to 1993.
Sir John added: “He was a golden egg, something that was very important to the Army. We were terribly cagey about Fred.”
He made the admission in a telephone conversation with Ian Hurst, a military intelligence whistleblower, which has since been posted on the internet.
Hurst called Sir John’s home twice, last Saturday and Sunday, claiming to be a Channel 4 researcher and giving the name ‘Jeremy Chiles’. However, the former soldier’s voice is clearly recognisable.
Yesterday Hurst said: “I can’t comment on who it was, but I think another call is going up [online] tomorrow.
The calls were made as Hurst prepared to give evidence at the Smithwick Tribunal in Dublin, which is examining the IRA murders of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan at Jonesborough, Armagh in 1989.
In the course of the conversation, Sir John describes two contacts with the agent, whom he refers to both as Stakeknife and Mr Scappaticci.
The first meeting came during the inquiry into collusion between the security forces and paramilitaries carried out by Sir John (now Lord) Stevens, the former head of the Metropolitan Police.
“The head of intelligence in Northern Ireland came to see me and said Stevens was burrowing around and that Fred Scappaticci was unsettled and would I go and see him and reassure him of the value of his work,” said Sir John. “That’s what I did.”
He named the head of intelligence as Colonel Colin Parr.
Stakeknife was then a senior member of the IRA’s internal security section, which was responsible for uncovering police and Army informants.
At the meeting in south Belfast, Sir John told Stakeknife that if he ever had any problems he could contact him personally.
This happened after Scappaticci had left Northern Ireland and wanted legal assistance.
Sir John Wilsey passed the request on to “the proper quarters” and he believes the agent was helped.
Sir John also revealed that Stakeknife was recruited as an agent in 1976 and that his first handler was a soldier named Peter Jones.
In 1984, a specialist agent-handling unit called the Force Research Unit (FRU) was set up and both Jones and Scappaticci were attached to it. Hurst also served in the FRU.
Sir John said that RUC Special Branch “was trying to get him [Stakeknife] off us. They wanted him themselves.
“Fred didn’t want to go with the police, because he thought they were sectarian.”
However, there was a compromise. “The FRU worked for MI5 and the RUC and all the [intelligence] went to them.
“I was responsible only for administering them and promoting them. They were a force unit, not my unit. Not operationally,” Sir John said.
Story so far
The Smithwick Inquiry was set up under Judge Peter Smithwick to investigate the murders of the two most senior policemen murdered during the Troubles.
After a year of negotiations with the Ministry of Defence, Judge Smithwick secured the appearance of former Army intelligence handler Ian Hurst.
In his evidence, Hurst suggested that up to four members of the IRA gang that murdered the officers could have been agents of one of other of the intelligence services active in Northern Ireland.
Hurst suggested Freddie Scappaticci was one of these agents.