Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, who heads the investigation into IRA spycatcher Freddie Scappaticci and his dealings with British military intelligence and MI5, recently told MP’s at Westminster that he would expect prosecutions resulting from his probe ‘to be very much the exception’.
This statement, made in writing to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee on June 23rd, will be widely interpreted as meaning that British intelligence officers who oversaw Scappaticci’s spying career and may well have been party to the murders of alleged IRA informers over many years, will escape prosecution.
The head of the so-called Kenova inquiry, as Boutcher’s probe is officially called, leaned quite heavily in his submission to the Grand Committee on the sentiment of victims’ families, that they were more interested in learning the truth behind their family members’ deaths than bringing those responsible before the courts.
This development, which Mr Boutcher also justified on the grounds that ‘significant legal and practical obstacles (exist) to bringing cases from so many years ago to the criminal courts now’, will be greeted with expressions of relief not just in the British Ministry of Defence and at MI5 headquarters but within the ranks of Sinn Fein and the IRA, who faced embarrassing and possibly damaging courtroom revelations.
Cynics will point out that such considerations did not deter the PSNI from pursuing the Boston College tapes or charging individuals with decades old offences.
Both Sinn Fein and the IRA are well practised in controlling civilian dissent but details emerging in open court would be beyond their power to influence.
It remains to be seen but the argument used by the Kenova chief to avoid bringing British intelligence officers and others to trial, could also be used to strengthen the case for a general amnesty followed by a full recounting of the Troubles.
The full statement given to the Grand Committee can be accessed and read here, but these are the relevant extracts: