When the North’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory announced recently that he had asked the PSNI to investigate security force collusion in the murderous activities of British agent cum IRA chief spycatcher, Freddie Scappaticci, more than one jaw dropped in surprise.
What was Barra doing, opening up this can of worms? From where had this alarming and astonishing display of boldness come from? Did he not realise this meant taking on the real forces of the state, not Billy and Sammy from Craigantlet but the spooky ones who, since Elizabethan times, have presided with arrogant disdain over the secret dealings of the kingdom? What was he taking with his breakfast cereal and can we all have some please?
Now, courtesy of KRW Law, the Belfast legal firm which is representing many of the relatives of Scappaticci’s victims, we now know the real background to Barra’s decision, and surprise, surprise it was not his idea at all.
According to KRW, whose clients had mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands – twenty-four victims in all – allegedly shot dead either by Scap, as he was known, or by other members of the IRA’s Internal Security Unit (ISU)*, aka, the spycatchers, or the nutting squad, the initiative for this move came from elsewhere.
It was, the law firm revealed, actually an investigation by the Police Ombudsman which uncovered the evidence suggesting criminality and collusion on the part of MI5 and the RUC, and possibly the PSNI as well, but because the Ombudsman is not authorised to investigate MI5, he passed his findings onto Barra McGrory, with the implied suggestion that he ask the PSNI to complete the job.
Here is what KRW says:
Last month we were informed by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) whose Office has been undertaking an investigation into the activities of the IRA Internal Security Team and the role of the RUC, that an interim report into this linked complex investigation of 24 murders involving Scappaticci that commenced in 2013 and revealed evidence of culpability, complicity and collusion amounting to criminality of both RUC officers and members of the British Security Forces specifically MI5 has been sent to the Director of the Public Prosecutions Service for Northern Ireland (PPS)
Because PONI has no jurisdiction to investigation allegations against state agents other than RUC or PSNI personnel, he referred his interim investigation report to the Director of Public Prosecutions: the DPP has now requested the Chief Constable of the PSNI to conduct an investigation into the activities of Scappaticci and the culpability, complicity and criminality of RUC and MI5 officers.
That all sounds very re-assuring. The DPP has ordered the PSNI to take the probe to its logical conclusion and soon enough we’ll be seeing MI5 men, former RUC Special Branch officers and, doubtless, members of British Military Intelligence in the dock, answering for some of the most cold-blooded and calculated killings of the Troubles.
Except, as KRW points out, the PSNI Legacy Investigations Branch is small, too small for this task. It is also staffed by PSNI members who will have to investigate the wrongdoings of their colleagues – that’s known elsewhere as a conflict of interest – and it also has former RUC members, some of them ex-Special Branch, on their team, which doubles down on the conflict of interest difficulty.
Surely Barra must have known this as well?
The PSNI is therefore incapable, in terms of resources and the necessary independence, to do the job.
Solution? Get an outsider, a Stalker-type figure to take over the investigation or better still, as KRW suggests, hold a public inquiry into collusion.
Except the recent deal to keep the Stormont ship-of-state afloat and provisioned with enough dosh to keep its over-fed, and overpaid members and their special advisers employed, wasn’t able to craft a deal on NI’s blood-soaked past, or ‘legacy’ as the current euphemism has it.
So, where are the Provos in all of this? I would have thought that getting to the bottom of the Scappaticci affair, and the closely related Brian Nelson scandal, would be a high priority for the former freedom-fighters. But no, that is apparently not the case at all.
Instead, it seems, dealing with the past will be allowed to sink into the slough of indifference while welfare cuts and rollbacks in corporation tax take the spotlight. Austerity and fat cats come first.
It’s enough to make a cynic wonder if there is something in the Scappaticci and Nelson affairs that Sinn Fein, rather like MI5 and the RUC Special Branch, would prefer to consign forever to the dark, unexplored corners of the Troubles’ story.
* (The Internal Security Unit’s job was to unearth British double agents in the IRA but it is now fairly obvious that the ISU itself was possibly the most infiltrated unit in the entire organisation.)
In the meantime here is the full text of the KRW statement: