Belfast Telegraph

IRA sent Stakeknife to find Loughgall mole

Army's top spy tasked with probe, BBC claims

The aftermath of the attack
The aftermath of the attack
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

The spycatcher tasked by the IRA to find the mole whose information led to the SAS wiping out a notorious eight-strong active service unit at Loughgall in 1987 was Freddie Scappaticci - the very man who was working as a double agent for the British intelligence services, according to a new documentary.

The latest episode of BBC NI's Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History series focused on the war within a war waged by British intelligence against the IRA.

Scappaticci was at the very heart of the hour-long programme, which alleged that the terrorist codenamed Stakeknife headed up the Provisionals' internal security unit.

A former Provo described Scappaticci as the "Clapham Junction of the IRA" because everything in the group had to go through him.

Anthony McIntyre said he had known Scappaticci from a young age and looked up to him.

"But I always knew he was a pretty ruthless character," he added.

Former Army officer Sir David Ramsbotham said "the famous Stakeknife was handed on to me in 1978 as being an important person".

He added: "He was obviously someone who had access to the higher levels of the IRA."

Spotlight said that Scappaticci's position in the internal investigation unit nicknamed the 'Nutting Squad' gave him access to every IRA department.

Insiders told Spotlight that the security forces in 1979 believed the IRA was impenetrable because of a new restructured cell structure, one of whose key architects, the programme alleged, was Gerry Adams.

The British, however, were able to find a crack in the very team that the Provisionals had established to improve their own security.

That man was Scappaticci, who was already working for the British for decades.

The most spectacular victory in the intelligence war came in May 1987 when the SAS were laying in wait for an IRA bomb team to arrive at Loughgall police station in Co Armagh.

The undercover soldiers knew the Provos were coming with a huge bomb, which had been loaded into the bucket of a stolen digger.

As the gang smashed through the gates of the barracks and shots were fired by the Provos, the SAS killed the entire eight-man unit from the IRA's deadly East Tyrone Brigade.

A civilian driving past, Anthony Hughes, also died in the hail of SAS bullets.

Former IRA man John Crawley said that when news of the killings reached the jail where he was an prisoner, inmates started cheering, thinking the victims were "Brits".

Pictures of the dead IRA men, including Patrick Kelly and Jim Lynagh, were shown in the documentary.

The Provisionals suspected an informer had tipped off the security services.

Patrick Kelly's sister Mairead said on Spotlight: "How did they know Loughgall was going to be attacked?"

Scappaticci was dispatched to find out and liaised with local IRA leader Gerard Harte on the Loughgall investigation, but they fell out. Harte was later killed by the SAS, one of 26 Provisionals to die at their hands.

Spotlight said the British had other agents hiding in plain sight, such as Denis Donaldson, a leading figure in Sinn Fein.

Former IRA intelligence officer Kieran Conway said that the attrition rate and the interception of so many Provo operations were such that it was clear the IRA were losing the war.

"It was time to cash in the chips," he said.

The documentary revealed the father of Joseph Mulhern, who was murdered by the IRA as an informer, was visited by Scappaticci, who told him how his son was killed.

Frank Mulhern said that Scappaticci also informed him he was with his son the night before he was shot. "He would obviously have had to report that to his handlers," he said.

Spotlight said a court ruling prevented them from tracking down Scappaticci, who has denied he was a double agent.

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