The spy in the IRA - double agent was protected by British authorities during the Troubles

The spy in the IRA - double agent was protected by British authorities during the Troubles

ONE of Britain’s most important spies embedded within the IRA is linked to 18 murders and was even provided with an alibi by police to avoid being arrested, it is being claimed.

A new BBC investigation claims that a classified report links a double agent named Stakeknife to 18 killings - some of whom were fellow British agents and informers providing information to security forces during the Troubles.

Panorama says that both intelligence and IRA sources have claimed that Stakeknife became head of the IRA’s 'Internal Security Unit' in the 1980s.

The unit was also known as the 'Nutting Squad' because it rooted out suspected British spies and interrogated them before being shot.

The investigation also claims that Stakeknife’s protection was prioritised over the lives of other agents.

In 2003 Stakeknife was named as a Belfast bricklayer called Freddie Scappaticci.

Panaorama claims he declined M15's offer of protection and reached an understanding with the IRA to firmly deny he was Stakeknife.

Freddie Scappaticci has always strongly denied that he is Stakeknife.

“He was too big to fail,” Panorama was told by Anthony McIntyre, who says he served under Scappaticci in the IRA.

“The IRA could not expose the fact to their [IRA] volunteers that the guy who was tasked by the leadership with protecting volunteers and security in the IRA was doing anything but.”

“Shooting Scappaticci would have raised an awful lot of questions to the IRA and to the leadership that had held him in place for so long.”

The programme, being broadcast tonight, also reveals the case of one agent working for the police Special Branch who was killed by the IRA, even though Stakeknife had alerted his own army handlers what was about to happen.

Joe Fenton, a 35-year-old father-of-four who was secretly providing information to the British, was suspected by the IRA of being an informer.

Prior to interrogating Joe Fenton for the second time, Stakeknife sent a warning to his own army handlers that Fenton would be killed.

Mr Fenton was executed on February 26, 1989, shortly after Stakeknife left the house where he was being held.

The police Special Brand and MI5 are now being investigated by Operation Kenova, a £35million investigation led by former counter terrorism detective Jon Boutcher, who is now Chief Constable of Bedfordshire.

“We need to understand what was the rationale and decision-making of one person being allowed to die in order, potentially if this was the case, that another person can live,” Boutcher told the programme.

Some 30 suspected British spies were executed by the Nutting Squad while Stakeknife was a member, Panorama claims.

A number of murders are said not to have been properly investigated to protect Stakeknife’s cover, it has also been claimed.

Former head of Belfast Special Branch Ray White - who had partial access to Stakeknife’s intelligence - was also interviwed but declined to say how many agents he lost.

White says the loss of an agent “was a hammer blow, it was a tremendous psychological and emotional blow to those people that were the handlers.”

Intelligence sources told Panorama that Stakeknife was saving many other lives by providing a “continuous flow of intelligence.”

“Does that become a factor?” asks White. “In terms of your analysis, you know is there going to be a greater loss of life coming down the line? It really is a moral maze and a moral conundrum as to how you actually balance out.”

Asked if the intelligence services did sometimes “play God” in deciding whose life should be saved, White says: “Those decisions were thankfully rare in terms of having to make that particular determination. In the one or two circumstances that I do have a recollection of, we did our utmost.”

Asked what he would say to Operation Kenova detectives now investigating the past, White said: “Well seriously consider yourself lucky that you didn’t have the decisions to make.”

Panorama also claims that a senior police officer provided Stakeknife with an alibi to stop him from being charged with a crime.

An army report seen by the programme claims that the police officer ‘thwarted’ the efforts of other police colleagues investigating his activities for the IRA.

The senior officer ‘concocted’ an alibi to avoid Stakeknife being charged after his thumbprint was found in a house used for his interrogation of an agent who the police believe was about to be shot.

BBC Panorama – The Spy in the IRA airs tonight on BBC One at 10.45pm