Police chief's pledge over Stakeknife probe
An English police chief tasked to investigate more than 50 murders linked to the Army's notorious IRA agent Stakeknife has pledged to leave no stone unturned in his quest for truth and justice.
Bedfordshire Police Chief Constable Jon Boutcher has agreed to take on the independent investigation of the high-ranking mole who led the IRA's internal security unit while in the employ of the state.
"I do not underestimate the task," he said.
"With both the passage of time and the very nature of these crimes, the truth will be a difficult and elusive prey."
The probe, which is expected to take at least five years and cost more than £30 million, will also investigate whether members of the British Army, Security Services or other Government agencies committed criminal acts as a consequence of their links with Stakeknife. Other IRA members linked to the killings will also be investigated.
West Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci has always strongly denied being Stakeknife.
As well as the multiple murders, the investigation team will examine evidence of other alleged offences committed by Stakeknife during the Troubles, including attempted murders and unlawful imprisonments.
Mr Boutcher will oversee a team comprising between 50 to 70 detectives. The investigation, called Kenova, will be based in London.
The investigation has been launched after Northern Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory referred the multiple allegations linked to Stakeknife to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton has asked external police officers to undertake the probe in an effort to ensure its independence. No former or current officers who have served in Northern Ireland will work on the investigation, nor will ex or serving Ministry of Defence or Security Service personnel.
"I believe this option contributes towards community confidence and reduces the impact on the PSNI's ability to provide a policing service today," Mr Hamilton said.
"I have every confidence in Chief Constable Boutcher and I have no doubt 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."
The recruitment process for officers will now begin.
At the conclusion of an event at PSNI headquarters in Belfast to announce details of the investigation, Mr Boutcher made a direct pledge to relatives of the victims.
"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."
A lawyer representing families of a number of Stakeknife's alleged victims questioned the independence of the investigation, noting that Mr Boutcher will report to Mr Hamilton and the PSNI was ultimately accountable for the probe.
Kevin Winters said independence was vital for the examination to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.
"The announcement today by the PSNI regarding its investigation of Stakeknife, at a media event to which the relatives of the victims of Stakeknife were not invited, is unsatisfactory," he said.
"The scope and independence of the investigation is unclear, the source of the money is unclear but it is clear that the investigation will not be compliant with human rights standards which we continue to litigate for."