Will we ever know the truth about Stakeknife?
Ex-intelligence officer Ian Hurst may be able to shed light on Freddie Scappaticci's role in the murder of two senior RUC men. But will he be allowed to? Alan Murray reports
So far, lawyers acting for Freddie Scappaticci - the British agent also known as 'Stakeknife' - have been denied representation at the Smithwick Tribunal, which is probing the murders of two senior RUC officers by the IRA.
Indeed, when Scappaticci's lawyers first sought finance from the tribunal to represent his interests during a public session in 2006, other lawyers wondered - as did Judge Peter Smithwick - why they considered that his IRA role might have had relevance in the murders of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan.
We still don't know the answer to that pertinent question - although Judge Smithwick, the chairman of the tribunal, is endeavouring to find out.
How much he has gleaned is shrouded in secrecy and, beyond knowing that he has held at least one meeting with a former Army intelligence officer called Ian Hurst, the public is in the dark about where that meeting led him, or may yet lead him.
Hurst appeared on a recent BBC Panorama programme about the alleged unlawful hacking of his computer on behalf of a small group of national newspaper journalists.
Their quest, apparently, was to try to find out if Hurst knew the whereabouts of Freddie Scappaticci, whose current appearance - never mind his whereabouts - is protected by a stringent High Court order.
It's a directive which means that, even if you know where he is, you cannot introduce this information to the public domain and you cannot publish a recently taken photograph of him if you came across one.
Following the Panorama programme, Hurst - who formerly used the pseudonym 'Martin Ingram' - received, friends say, a snooty letter from the Treasury Solicitor in London on behalf of the Ministry of Defence asking him what the devil he thought he was doing appearing on a television programme.
Even though Hurst was speaking about an alleged criminal offence which he believes was perpetrated against him, such is the potential gravity attached to his possible public utterances by the MoD that its mandarins seemingly become paranoid at his very appearance - even if he isn't talking about Scappaticci.
Hurst cannot talk about the committal proceedings hanging over his head in relation to the publication of a book entitled Stakeknife, or the numerous injunctions served upon him thereafter. He is not allowed to divulge - even to his MP - the conditions of those injunctions, or undertakings given by his lawyers on his behalf.
Even if we knew their detail, we would be in contempt of court if we published them.
All of which indicates that, even 14 years after he completed his Army service, matters that Hurst may know about Stakeknife's activities and the actions of the secret Force Research Unit (FRU), which ran Army agents here, are considered so sensitive that Hurst must be constantly gagged.
The effect of that, friends say, is that Hurst is not allowed to talk to any serving police officer in the United Kingdom about anything.
Whether that is true we cannot verify from Hurst, because he is not lawfully permitted to talk about any of the stringent conditions imposed upon him via the injunctions and legal undertakings.
All of which leaves Judge Peter Smithwick in a bit of a pickle over calling Hurst to Dublin to be a witness at his tribunal when it gets under way in public after Easter.
What Hurst has told Judge Smithwick so far about Stakeknife's role along the border and whether it has relevance to his tribunal we are not allowed to know.
What we do know is that the Ministry of Defence does not want Hurst to talk about Stakeknife, either publicly or privately, which puts its lawyers on a collision-course with Judge Smithwick who wants much more dialogue with Hurst.
Those who may know, but cannot divulge what the state-of-play is on this crucial matter will only advise that matters are "delicately" poised on whether Hurst will ever be allowed to travel to Dublin to speak about Stakeknife.
For some as yet to be explained reason, back in October 2006 Freddie Scappaticci's lawyers seemed to think that they should be tied to the tribunal investigating the murders of Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan.
That remains the case.
So has Scappaticci something crucial he wants to tell the tribunal in relation to the ambushing of the two senior RUC officers in March 1989?
Is he going to spill the beans about the role of rogue members of the security services and fellow IRA members in the Republic?
Is Scappaticci getting to that time of life when he wants to talk about his role in the conflict - and name others?
Hurst may be able to assist the Smithwick Tribunal in this very sensitive matter if he is allowed to reveal what he knows about Scappaticci's role in the IRA along the border, where he would have regularly gone to interrogate alleged informers in safe houses in Dundalk.
Given that Judge Smithwick is investigating the murders of the two most senior of Her Majesty's police officers to be murdered by the IRA, wouldn't it be considered outrageous if some of Her Majesty's most senior Army officers and MoD officials contrived to obstruct Judge Smithwick's inquiry - itself specifically requested by Her Majesty's Government?