Stakeknife could have murdered 40 people - probe 'potentially bigger than UDA Brian Nelson case'
An investigation into the activities of the IRA's most senior double agent may cover more than 40 murders.
The IRA informant, codenamed Stakeknife, is to be investigated over a series of killings carried out in the 1980s and 1990s.
While the police probe into Northern Ireland's dirty war will initially look at 24 cases, it is understood it could grow to twice that size.
The Army agent, codename Stakeknife, has been named as west Belfast man Fred Scappaticci. He denies it.
Stakeknife's handlers and others within the Army, MI5 and RUC Special Branch are also to be investigated.
A source close to the probe revealed that this case has the potential to be much bigger than that of former British Army agent Brian Nelson.
When asked about the size of scale of the allegations against Stakeknife and his handlers, the source replied "colossal".
Alleged victims of Stakeknife said they were overjoyed after the new investigation was ordered. But they called for an outside police force to carry out the probe.
Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory said yesterday that he had asked the PSNI Chief Constable to launch probes into the activities of the agent Stakeknife.
Scappaticci was named as Stakeknife in 2003 - an allegation he has always denied. He left Northern Ireland when the claim became public.
Potential criminal activity by Scappaticci's handlers and other personnel within Military Intelligence and MI5 is also to be investigated.
And the PPS is to review a prosecution decision in 2007 not to pursue perjury charges connected to a High Court case in 2003 involving Scappaticci.
During this case Scappaticci gave evidence under oath that he was not Stakeknife.
Mr McGrory said these were "extremely serious matters", perhaps "the most significant" in his time as Director of Public Prosecutions.
"I have not taken the steps to commence investigations lightly, but rather consider they must be taken to ensure that public confidence can be maintained in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and in the wider criminal justice system," Mr McGrory said.
The investigations follow 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.
Mr McGrory said he was made aware of the scope and range of possible offences that may have been carried out by Stakeknife after the Police Ombudsman provided him with information. Stakeknife was the most high profile British agent operating within the IRA throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Mr McGrory said he has asked the Chief Constable to "investigate a range of potential offences which relate to the alleged activities of an agent commonly known as 'Stakeknife'."
He said he had asked the PSNI to examine the full range of potential offences that may have been carried out by Stakeknife and any potential criminal activity that may have been carried out by Security Service agents.
Mr McGrory added that in a separate, but related, matter, he considers there is sufficient information available to review a prosecutorial decision relating to a case involving an allegation of perjury in 2003.
"I have serious concerns in relation to this decision. Having reviewed all of the available evidence, I consider that the original decision did not take into account relevant considerations, and also took into account irrelevant factors," he said.
Mr McGrory added: "I have concluded that the original decision was not within the range of decisions that could reasonably be taken in the circumstances. This decision has been set aside."
He has asked the Chief Constable to provide further materials so that the matter can be reconsidered.