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Stakeknife probe statement postponed to avoid Loughinisland report clash

Published 07/06/2016

Six people were killed at The Heights Bar at Loughinisland in 1994
Six people were killed at The Heights Bar at Loughinisland in 1994

A public statement outlining details of an independent police probe into IRA double agent Stakeknife has been postponed to facilitate the publication of another high-profile Troubles investigation.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable George Hamilton had been due on Thursday to unveil the officer tasked with re-examining the murders allegedly linked to the notorious British spy who operated within the IRA's ranks. West Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci has always strongly denied being the man behind the codename.

Mr Hamilton was expected to set out the remit of the investigation and announce Bedfordshire chief constable Jon Boutcher as the lead officer at a meeting of the PSNI's oversight body - the NI Policing Board.

However, Thursday is also the publication day of a long-awaited report by a police watchdog into the loyalist murders at Loughinisland, Co Down, in 1994.

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire will publish his findings after examining allegations of police collusion with the UVF gunmen.

A lawyer representing the victims' families had called on the Policing Board to postpone the Stakeknife briefing to allow public attention to focus on the Ombudsman's report.

Six Catholic men were shot dead indiscriminately by loyalist paramilitaries as they watched a Republic of Ireland World Cup game at a country pub in Loughinisland.

It has been alleged that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the predecessor to the PSNI, did not conduct a proper investigation because it was protecting an informer and that there was collusion between some police officers and the killers.

A report by previous ombudsman Al Hutchinson found that the RUC failed to properly investigate what happened in Loughinisland but said there was insufficient evidence of collusion.

Those findings were quashed after a legal challenge by relatives of those killed, and Dr Maguire has conducted a new investigation.

Mr Hamilton will now brief members of the Policing Board in a behind-closed-doors meeting at the board's headquarters in Belfast on Thursday afternoon.

It is understood the chief constable will make a public announcement about the Stakeknife probe at a later juncture.

A Policing Board spokeswoman said: "The briefing session planned will be strictly private and confidential to the Board."

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