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PSNI recruits civilian investigators to help manage colossal Stakeknife probe

By Deborah McAleese

Published 03/03/2016

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris in one of the storage vaults where historic murder files are kept
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris in one of the storage vaults where historic murder files are kept
Barra McGrory QC

The PSNI is hiring a number of former police officers as civilian investigators to help with investigating historic crimes, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Adverts have been placed with recruitment agencies across the UK for 17 investigation officers to start work on cases including the Stakeknife probe.

Their contract is due to run until May 2017, and they will be paid £170 a day.

The PSNI is also hoping to secure detectives from other police forces on a secondment basis to support the investigations.

The news comes after Stakeknife's alleged victims called for an independent probe.

But due to difficulties in securing the numbers needed, applications have been opened to former police officers.

Those people selected to take up work will join a special major investigation team that will report directly to Chief Constable George Hamilton.

The police chief will, in turn, report to the Northern Ireland Policing Board about the probe's findings.

The investigation into Stakeknife - who has been widely named as former west Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci, which he strenuously denies - is expected to be the largest ever in the UK into allegations against a single individual.

The team will investigate claims about the activities of Stakeknife and the IRA's internal security unit, the so-called "nutting squad", between 1978 and 1995.

The unit was responsible for identifying, interrogating and killing IRA members suspected of being informers.

It has been claimed that Mr Scappaticci was a leading member, as well as being the Army agent codenamed Stakeknife.

In October, the director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland, Barra McGrory QC, announced that he had asked the police to investigate allegations that Stakeknife was involved in 24 murders. However, it is believed that the number could grow significantly as the investigation progresses.

Dealing with legacy cases, Troubles-related inquests and major investigations such as Stakeknife and Bloody Sunday is placing a huge strain on the PSNI's already reduced resources.

Police bosses believe that hiring former officers on short contracts, or serving officers on secondments from other forces, could help relieve some of this pressure.

Chief Constable George Hamilton has said several times that his priority is for the PSNI to keep people safe today, and not tie up precious resources investigating the past.

Policing Board member and DUP MLA Jonathan Craig said he had concerns about the use of retired officers in the Stakeknife investigation and other cases.

"These investigators are needed for the Stakeknife probe," he added. "I would be happy for detectives from other police forces in GB to be brought in to assist.

"But I wouldn't be happy for former officers to be involved. This is where the HET (the now defunct Historical Enquiries Team) fell down.

"I would have concerns around whether their (the former officers') qualifications and investigative techniques were up to date."

He added, however: "While I would prefer existing officers from outside Northern Ireland, I believe that it is unlikely we will be able to secure the numbers needed, so it puts the PSNI in a difficult situation."

The advertisement for the investigation officer posts insists that candidates be willing to undergo developed vetting, which is the highest level of security clearance.

They must also have knowledge of organised criminality, as well as experience in reviews into historic investigations and the use of covert tactics. In addition, applicants should be familiar with the HOLMES system (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) - an information technology system used in the investigation of major incidents.

The government has set aside a total of £150m for those bodies that are set to investigate Troubles-related cases.

But a failure by Stormont politicians to agree on how best to deal with issues concerning the past means that the extra money is currently on hold.

Last month, the Northern Ireland Office indicated no more cash would be made available to deal with police investigations into Troubles-era crimes.

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