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Stakeknife: Alleged spy in IRA Scappaticci facing at least 20 lawsuits

By Alan Erwin

A west Belfast man who denies being Britain's former top spy inside the IRA is now facing at least 20 separate lawsuits, the High Court heard today.

The developing scale of litigation against Freddie Scappaticci was revealed as police mounted a bid to have legal action put on hold for two years.

Allowing the civil claims to continue could seriously prejudice a criminal investigation into the agent Stakeknife's alleged link to 50 murders, a judge was told.

But counsel for one of those suing 69-year-old Scappaticci argued that it would be "catastrophic" to stay her action until December 2018.

Writs have been issued in a series of cases involving claims of kidnapping and interrogating suspected police informers.

Scappaticci left Nothern Ireland in 2003 after being identified by the media as Stakeknife.

Before quitting his home he vehemently denied being the agent while in charge of the IRA's internal security team, the so-called 'Nutting Squad'.

In court today Mr Justice Stephens confirmed that a total of 20 actions against Scappaticci have either been lodged or are being prepared.

That figure could rise in future, he was advised.

One of the confirmed cases involves an action by Margaret Keeley against the PSNI, MoD and Scappaticci.

The Newry woman's former husband is Peter Keeley, an ex-MI5 agent who also uses the pseudonym Kevin Fulton.

She alleges she was wrongfully arrested and falsely imprisoned during a three-day period at Castlereagh police station in 1994 following an IRA attempt to murder a senior detective in east Belfast.

Mrs Keeley was released without charge, but claims she was then taken with Fulton to a flat in the New Lodge area of north Belfast and questioned by an IRA security team.

Scappaticci was one of the men who carried out two debriefing sessions, she has alleged.

But counsel representing the PSNI told the court he was seeking to stay Mrs Keeley's action due to the ongoing criminal probe into Stakeknife's activities.

Bedfordshire Police Chief Constable Jon Boutcher was appointed in June last year to lead the enquiries, codenamed Operation Kenova.

Nicolas Hanna QC, for the PSNI, described it as a major investigation still at the stage of recruiting detectives.

Identifying concerns that civil litigation could prejudice the probe, the barrister said: "Mr Boutcher is concerned that there's considerable overlap between what he considers will require his investigation and cases listed before your lordship.

"He would have thought a point would have been reached by the end of 2018 when he might be in a better position to assist the court on progress and the possible adverse impact of the civil proceedings on any criminal proceedings."

Similar issues are likely to apply in all the lawsuits, the court heard.

But Brett Lockhart QC, representing Mrs Keeley, pressed for more details on why police want to put civil litigation on hold for two years.

"The application will have a catastrophic impact... if it's acceded to," he claimed.

Scappaticci is also being sued in a number of other cases, including some centred on the kidnapping of a police informer in January 1990.

Sandy Lynch was said to have been interrogated at a house in west Belfast before RUC officers swooped.

Some of those whose convictions for involvement in the abduction were overturned are pursuing claims against the alleged agent.

Scappaticci's legal representatives told the court they have not yet been able to take instructions from him on the police bid for a stay.

Adjourning the application, Mr Justice Stephens directed that an affidavit be filed setting out detailed reasons.

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