At precisely eight minutes past 11 yesterday morning, the Smithwick Tribunal in Dublin entered into perhaps the most sensitive session it has held to date.
After a year of intensive negotiations with the Ministry of Defence, a former Army officer, who until recently used the pseudonym ‘Martin Ingram’, entered the witness box to detail his knowledge of Army intelligence-gathering operations along the border and, in particular, his knowledge of the Army’s most renowned agent, codenamed ‘Stakeknife’.
Over the course of his evidence, ‘Ingram’, whose real name is Ian Hurst, suggested that up to four of the IRA group that murdered Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan at Jonesborough in 1989 could have been agents of one or the other of the intelligence agencies operating in Northern Ireland.
And, while he is expected to state that he has no direct information linking any specific Garda officer to the killing of the two RUC officers, he will suggest that Stakeknife met and received information from at least one Garda officer based in Dundalk station for use by the IRA. Hurst has claimed that the name of Belfastman Freddie Scappaticci was raised with him by a member of Lord Stevens’ investigation team during a meeting in 2000, at which former PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde was present.
He will tell Judge Peter Smithwick that he spoke to an Army officer who was Scappaticci’s “long-term handler” and discussed his role while at an on-base Army bar called the Green Fly.
Hurst has already told Judge Smithwick’s lawyers that he learned of Scappaticci’s role as an agent by chance when, on an evening at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, a phone rang in the HQ office of the specialist Force Research Unit (FRU).
The call was made from Donegall Pass RUC station and a police officer advised Hurst’s colleague, named Sam, who took the call, that an Alfredo Scappaticci had been arrested for a suspected drink-driving offence and had requested a call be made to the Army number.
Hurst’s commanding officer took charge of the situation and advised him and his colleague never to make any mention of it again.
Hurst has told the tribunal’s lawyers that Dundalk Garda station was regarded as a “viper’s nest” and that a particular garda “was at the centre of it” and that nothing was done to rectify the situation in the station because it had “political cover” from Dublin.
He has claimed that the name of one rogue garda came up regularly when he worked within the Army’s secretive 121 Intelligence unit, perhaps three times in a week, then perhaps not for six months. He has named another retired garda, whose name is known to the tribunal.
Hurst was posted to work for the Force Research Unit in Londonderry in late 1982 and served with the unit there and in Enniskillen until his last tour of duty in 1990.
The compelling question facing Judge Smithwick is how much of Ian Hurst’s testimony is relevant to his inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the murders of Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan.
Hurst knows who Stakeknife is and claims that one of his handlers told him that Stakeknife had a Garda source in Dundalk who provided information to the IRA. That is highly relevant to the Smithwick Tribunal’s terms of reference.
The ‘player’ who could help clear up that assertion and greatly help Judge Smithwick on other critical collusion points is Stakeknife, who Hurst says is Freddie Scappaticci, who also has legal representation at the tribunal.
If Scappaticci were to turn up at Smithwick, there is little doubt that — like Hurst’s evidence — his contribution would be heard only by lawyers, such is the sensitivity over Stakeknife’s role in the intelligence war in Northern Ireland.