Police chief vows to exhaust all avenues in Stakeknife investigation
Top cop leading independent investigation into IRA double-agent pledges 'absolute commitment' to the truth
An English police chief tasked with investigating more than 50 murders linked to the Army's notorious IRA agent Stakeknife has pledged to leave no stone unturned in his quest for the truth.
Bedfordshire Police Chief Constable Jon Boutcher agreed to take on the independent investigation of the high-ranking mole who led the terror group's internal security unit while in the employ of the State.
The informant, codenamed Stakeknife, has been linked to more than 50 killings carried out during the 1980s and 1990s.
The activities of the agent's handlers and others within the Army, MI5 and RUC Special Branch, are to be included in the probe, with investigators looking for evidence of potential crimes.
A team of 50 to 70 detectives will be involved in the inquiry, which is expected to last at least five years and cost more than £30m. The bill will be paid from the PSNI's budget.
No current or former members of the RUC, PSNI, Ministry of Defence or MI5 will help carry out the investigation.
The PSNI indicated that it would "not seek to direct or control, or in any way interfere" with the inquiry.
Chief Constable George Hamilton said this decision "contributes towards community confidence and reduces the impact on the PSNI's ability to provide a policing service today".
Mr Hamilton added: "I have every confidence in Chief Constable Boutcher, and I have no doubt that his previous experience when it comes to dealing with highly complex and sensitive investigations will be of great benefit to him as this investigation progresses."
Stakeknife has been widely named as Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci, who came from the Markets area in the south of the city. He left Northern Ireland after the claim, which he denies, was made public.
The informant was the most high-profile British agent operating in the IRA in the 1980s and 1990s. He is believed to have led the IRA's internal security unit, known as "the nutting squad", which was responsible for identifying and interrogating suspected informers.
The IRA's internal security unit is believed to have killed at least 53 people that it claimed were informers between 1978 and 1995.
Chief Constable Boutcher admitted that uncovering the truth would be a difficult task.
"With both the passage of time and the very nature of these crimes, the truth will be a difficult and elusive prey," he said.
"My principle aim in taking responsibility for this investigation is to bring those responsible for these awful crimes - in whatever capacity they were involved -to justice."
Mr Boutcher also stressed that he was committed to finding the truth for victims' families.
"I realise the very announcement of this investigation will cause pain and bring back terribly sad memories," he said.
"It must be extremely hard to have listened to various commentaries within the community and the media about how and why your loved one died.
"I hope this investigation ultimately addresses the uncertainties and rumours. All I can promise is an absolute commitment to trying to find the truth."
Last year, Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory asked the PSNI Chief Constable to launch probes into the activities of the agent Stakeknife. He said he had asked the force to examine the full range of potential offences that may have been carried out by the double-agent and any potential criminal activity that may have been carried out by security service agents.
That followed a review by the Police Ombudsman of material arising from the three investigations carried out by Lord Stevens into allegations of collusion. The Police Ombudsman's involvement arose from a number of complaints made by members of the public and from matters referred to it by the PSNI.
They included allegations that some murders could have been prevented and that a number of people were subsequently protected from investigation and prosecution.