Belfast Telegraph

Dogged Stakeknife probe chief won't take no for an answer

Freddie Scappaticci, who is alleged to be the Army agent Stakeknife
Freddie Scappaticci, who is alleged to be the Army agent Stakeknife
Sir John Stevens
Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Jon Boutcher - the English police chief who's demanding access to information from top secret MI5 files to assist his inquiry into the activities of the Army's highest placed informer in the IRA - doesn't readily take "no" for an answer, according to people who know him.

The Chief Constable of Bedfordshire isn't a man to be trifled with, they say, pointing to an officer who has repeatedly gone public to defend his force in the face of criticism from watchdogs over its performance and who has spoken out against racism in the police.

"He's a resolute, stubborn career policeman who doesn't take any prisoners when it comes to a showdown," said one English journalist who has seen him in action. "And he isn't shy about appearing in front of the cameras to get his message across to the public."

That unyielding obstinacy is a quality that could hold Mr Boutcher in good stead as the latest English investigator to try to unravel claims of collusion and the uneasy relationships between the police here and organisations like MI5 and the Army's Intelligence Corp's Force Research Unit (FRU), whose brief through the Troubles was to defeat the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries.

However, it's accepted that many of the supposed upholders of the law frequently overstepped the mark and became law-breakers who didn't just recruit terrorists to act as moles within their organisations, but sometimes turned a blind eye to what they were doing - literally letting them get away with murder in the dirty war raging in Northern Ireland.

Mr Boutcher's inquiry, Operation Kenova, started in January 2017 focusing on the murderous activities of the Army's most valuable asset in the IRA codenamed Stakeknife, a ruthless republican allegedly linked to as many as 50 killings over a 17-year period.

Stakeknife is alleged to be 72-year-old Freddie Scappaticci, who has denied any wrongdoing.

Scappaticci was arrested by Operation Kenova officers last January.

A team of 50 detectives have been probing, among others, police officers, members of the Army, the IRA and MI5.

On Monday Mr Boutcher released a progress report on his inquiry, which he said had been "hugely complex and at times challenging".

But the statement said the Kenova team had been "steadfast" in their approach to gathering every possible piece of evidence, which they intended to submit in files to the Director of Public Prosecutions here next year.

Mr Boutcher said people suspected of being involved in offences under investigation, including murder and torture dating back to the 1970s, were now being brought in for questioning, among them members of the security forces and the IRA.

The statement said the Kenova detectives had gathered more than 12,000 documents and conducted 129 interviews with witnesses, victims and families, securing 1,000 statements.

Mr Boutcher said his detectives had spoken to people with links to government, the police, military, intelligence agencies and paramilitary organisations.

He added that he was fulfilling a promise to families that he would do everything in his power to get the truth for them about the abduction and brutal murder of these poor victims - offences committed, he said, by cowards.

Mr Boutcher said the team was utilising new advances in evidence gathering.

He explained: "We are using ground-breaking techniques to review and uncover forensic evidence which was not previously available and that has allowed us to drive this investigation further than has been previously possible.

"We have managed to obtain a number of new DNA profiles and unidentified finger marks which are highly likely to belong to offenders. This evidence is all helping us to piece together a picture of what really happened."

Mr Boutcher is clearly confident that he can shine a light into the dark and often impenetrable world of British intelligence and the collusion between them and the terrorists. His is not the first inquiry to try to get to the heart of the controversy.

Other English police investigators such as John Stalker and Sir John Stevens tried, with varying levels of success, to crack the claims that British intelligence was working hand in glove with killers.

Stalker, the Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, was sent in to investigate the so-called 'shoot to kill' deaths of republicans by the RUC in 1983, but he was removed from the inquiry three years later amid allegations about his associations with criminals - claims which were later rejected.

Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Colin Sampson took over the inquiry, but his report was never fully published.

Although it later emerged that he had said there was sufficient evidence to justify the prosecution of three police officers and two MI5 operatives over the killing of unarmed Lurgan teenager Michael Tighe.

Sir John Stevens, who would become head of the Metropolitan Police later, headed up three more official inquiries into collusion between loyalist killers and the security forces.

He initially found that collusion was neither widespread nor institutionalised, but later said he'd uncovered collusion at a level which was "way beyond" his original view in 1990.

It was claimed that Stevens met with a wall of silence from RUC Special Branch as he tried to investigate the role of double agent Brian Nelson in a number of UDA killings, including the miurder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

Bizarrely, the Stevens team's offices inside a secure RUC complex at Seapark outside Carrickfergus were badly damaged in a fire in January 1990.

It was reported that smoke alarms and heat sensors mysteriously weren't triggered by the blaze and it was said that telephone lines had been cut.

The RUC said the fire was accidental and Sir John initially accepted those findings, though one source said he did so "through gritted teeth", and later blamed the FRU for the blaze.

Several figures linked to the FRU later admitted that it was an arson attack which was carried out by their members to destroy evidence in a bid to protect an agent inside loyalism, Brian Nelson, who was due to be arrested the next day.

Several newspapers said that after the blaze the Stevens detectives at Seapark were greeted by choruses of the Billy Joel hit We Didn't Start The Fire.

Several decades on, Jon Boutcher clearly believes that he can successfully lift the lid on collusion.

He, or people close to him, it would seem, were behind the briefing of Sunday Times journalists at the weekend about Mr Boutcher's "determination" to dig deep into the Stakeknife affair.

The newspaper said that Mr Boutcher will ask MI5 to give his Kenova team a statement detailing what it knew about crimes carried out by Stakeknife, including as many as 17 murders.

The demand is said to have followed the uncovering of a number of secret documents at MI5 headquarters by Kenova detectives, who are part of a £35m investigation into not only Stakeknife's alleged murders, but claims of kidnapping and tortures as well.

MI5 has been asked by the Kenova team to supply a statement about what the organisation knew about what Stakeknife was doing - and being allowed to do.

Scappaticci's name figured in a high-profile trial at Belfast Crown Court in 1991, when he was said to have been the leader of the IRA's internal security unit, the so called 'nutting squad', that interrogated suspected informers.

Journalists covering the trial of a number of men charged in connection with the kidnapping and false imprisonment of double agent Sandy Lynch were surprised by the number of references to Scappaticci, who was never charged with any offences.

An MI5 source told the Sunday Times that Kenova had uncovered documents "which are very telling about the role that our man played in certain things".

"They are documents that the service has kept that they probably should have got rid of. Boutcher has upset quite a few people at the service.

"He is not in a cosy relationship with them. The victims' families are his priority.

"People were doing things that may have been deemed operationally necessary at the time, but may no longer be acceptable."

Earlier this month Scappaticci appeared in a London court charged with possession of extreme pornography, including bestiality.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three months' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.

Mr Boutcher said Scappaticci's conviction was secured after material including photographs was seized as part of Operation Kenova.

The court heard that Scappaticci told police he wasn't sexually interested in animals, and preferred women with big breasts.

He said he wasn't doing anyone any real harm, adding that he had depression.

At the launch of Operation Kenova in June 2016, sitting alongside PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, Mr Boutcher vowed that he wouldn't wither in the face of opposition from British intelligence services.

Sceptics said at the outset the Kenova team would be stopped from completing its job because the evidence it could unearth would be too sensitive for the British intelligence to allow into the public arena. But Mr Boutcher, who has recruited the services of advisers from police forces around the world for his oversight team, said: "If any of this perceived resistance happens, I will challenge it."

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