Mick McGovern, author of ‘Killing Rage‘, arguably the best book written about the internal workings of the Provisional IRA, describes how Freddie Scappaticci was outed:
As you know, it was actually Martin Ingram, the former soldier in the British Army’s Force Research Unit who fingered Scap after reading Killing Rage, an account of the life of Eamon Collins, who served in the IRA’s Internal Security Unit with Scap.
Eamon didn’t to live to see the squad’s deputy Frederico Scappaticci – named as ‘Scap’ in the book – uncovered as ‘Stakeknife’, the fabled high-ranking, long-term agent of British intelligence, with whom Eamon felt a special bond because they both came from families involved in the ice-cream business.
Eamon’s maternal family had owned an ice-cream van. Scap’s extended family had owned an ice-cream parlour. Eamon told me he had once jokingly in Scap’s presence made reference to their shared Cornetto heritage. Scap had looked at him coldly and changed the subject.
Eamon would have been proud to learn that Killing Rage played an important role in leading to the exposure of ‘Stakeknife’. The whistle-blowing former British intelligence officer and army Force Research Unit handler Martin Ingram first began seriously to question what the FRU did in Northern Ireland after reading the book.
In his own book, Stakeknife: Britain’s Secret Agents in Ireland, co-written with Greg Harkin, Ingram describes how he read in Killing Rage about Scap’s joking to Eamon about his murder of an informer: ‘It left him feeling sick to the pit of his stomach’. Ingram knew the ‘Scap’ referred to was Freddie Scappaticci, but more importantly, that Scappaticci was Stakeknife, an agent run by his former friends in the FRU.’
Spotlight brought me over to Belfast in 2003 for an interview when the story first broke. For a bit of pre-publicity for the doc, I wrote this article on Scap that they placed in The People:
“Will you be going down the Damascus Road, Eamon?”
The anonymous IRA interrogator sitting behind him in the darkened room wanted to know if Eamon Collins, who had just helped murder an innocent Catholic, might turn to God (and perhaps, later, the police) to repent his sins.
This was Eamon’s first encounter with the IRA’s internal police squad.
It was also – he realised later when he himself joined the internal-security unit – his first encounter with Freddie Scappaticci.
Eamon was being interviewed by Scappaticci as part of an IRA inquiry into the killing of the Catholic, shot in the head in a betting shop.
Eamon, who was intelligence officer for the Newry area (the IRA’s so-called South Down Command), had mistaken the man for an RUC Special Branch officer.
He was impressed by Scappaticci’s thoroughness – and his acceptance of the murder as a regrettable accident.
Eamon’s own cold-hearted attitude must also have impressed, because the following year he was invited to join the Nutting Squad.
For six months he spent many hours with Scappaticci – nicknamed Scap – vetting new recruits, debriefing IRA members released from police custody, conducting court-martials and tracking down suspected informers.
Eamon told me when we were writing his autobiography, Killing Rage, that Scap had a keen interest in keeping up with new police interrogation techniques.
He had been arrested and detained countless times.
He told Eamon that once, after trying the usual interrogation methods, police spent several hours telling him jokes to try and break his composed manner.
Scap said some of the jokes had been very funny, and he had had to fight hard not to crack.
IRA members feared the Nutting Squad more than they feared any police or army unit.
At first, Eamon respected and admired Scap (who was deputy to a former British marine called John Joe Magee), although later his view changed.
Scap struck him as ruthless, dedicated and methodical, the epitome of the tough guerrilla fighter that Eamon aspired to be.
Eamon felt that with more people of Scap’s calibre in the ranks, the IRA could certainly stave off military defeat, if not achieve outright victory.
Eamon asked if he personally would be expected to shoot informers. Scap said yes.
Eamon said: “I asked whether they always told people that they were going to be shot. Scap said it depended on the circumstances.
“He turned to John Joe and started joking about one informer who had confessed after being offered an amnesty.
“Scap told the man that he would take him home, reassuring him that he had nothing to worry about.
“Scap had told him to keep the blindfold on for security reasons as they walked away from the car.
“He said: ‘It was funny watching the bastard stumbling and falling, asking me as he felt his way along the railings and walls. ‘Is this my house now?’ and I’d say, ‘No, not yet, walk on some more.’
“‘And then you shot the fucker in the back of the head,’ said John Joe, and both of them burst out laughing.”
Eamon, nonetheless, regarded Scap as someone who acted in the best interest of the Republican movement and who did not abuse his power excessively.
Although Scap was normally controlled, Eamon knew he had an explosive temper.
Eamon loathed his immediate superior in the South Down Command, a man nicknamed Hardbap.
He regarded him as a blundering incompetent, botching operations and causing unnecessary deaths to civilians and fellow IRA members.
He discovered that Scap too loathed Hardbap because of a fight they’d had many years earlier.
This may have been the incident which some have claimed pushed Scap into the arms of army intelligence.
Eamon heard that one night after a drinking session in Dundalk, Scap mounted the pavement in his car in an attempt to run over Hardbap.
Senior IRA commanders had to talk to the two men to prevent the conflict from escalating.
Eamon respected Scap as someone who, like himself, had a ‘normal’ job on top of his IRA work. He felt that other IRA members, whose freedom fighting was subsidised by dole money, had a far easier life.
But, gradually he grew to distrust Scap, although he never suspected he might be working for the British.
When Eamon found himself in the middle of a power struggle between Belfast and south Armagh units of the IRA, the latter wanted Eamon to work for him alone. In a key confrontation Scap failed to speak up for him.
Eamon realised to Scap, everyone was expendable.
Scap’s treatment of Eamon intensified a process of disillusionment that had started years earlier.
After more than six years in the IRA, with at least five murders on his conscience, Eamon cracked under interrogation in police custody after his arrest for the mortar attack on Newry Police Station which killed nine police officers.
He became a supergrass, telling the police everything he knew, causing huge damage to the IRA and leading to scores of arrests.
His former colleagues – especially those in the Nutting Squad – were not impressed. Word got to him in prison that Scap wanted personally to scalp him.
Eamon withdrew his statements and walked free from court after the judge ruled he had been mistreated in custody.
He had another appointment with the Nutting Squad this time for a ‘debriefing.’
He knew they wanted to kill him, but the IRA had been given a public amnesty and, for practical purposes, could not go back on its word.
Eamon waited nervously in an IRA safe-house in Dundalk for Scap’s arrival.
The head of the Nutting Squad came without Scap. He told Eamon that Scap had decided against coming, because he was not sure that he would have been able to control himself.
As far as I know, Eamon, who was murdered in January 1999, never saw Scap again.
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