Stakeknife is the code name of a spy who infiltrated the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) at a high level, while working for the top secret Force Research Unit (FRU) of the British Army. Reports claim that Stakeknife worked for British intelligence for 25 years.
Stakeknife had his own dedicated handlers and agents and it was suggested that he was important enough that MI5 set up an office dedicated solely to him. Rumours suggested that he was being paid at least £80,000 a year and had a bank account in Gibraltar.
Serious allegations have emerged to the effect that the British government allowed up to forty people to be killed via the IRA’s Internal Security Unit or “Nutting Squad” to protect his cover.
In 1987 Sam McCrory, an Ulster Defence Association/”Ulster Freedom Fighters” member, killed the 66-year-old Francisco Notarantonio at his home in Ballymurphy in West Belfast. The UDA/UFF had discovered that a senior IRA member was working for the FRU. It has been alleged that FRU agent Brian Nelson gave Notarantonio’s name to the UDA/UFF to protect the identity of the real spy.
On the 11th May 2003, several newspapers named Freddie Scappaticci as Stakeknife. Scappaticci denied the claims and launched an unsuccessful legal action to have the British government state he was not their agent. He later left Northern Ireland and was rumoured to be living in Cassino, Italy. There were also reported sightings in Tenerife.
A report in a February 2007 edition of the Belfast News Letter reported that a cassette recording allegedly of Scappaticci talking about the number of murders he was involved in via the “Nutting Squad”, as well as his work as an Army agent, had been lodged with the PSNI in 2004 and subsequently passed to the Stevens Inquiry in 2005.
The former British Intelligence agent who worked in the FRU known as “Martin Ingram” has written a book titled Stakeknife since the original allegations came to light in which it says Scappaticci was the agent in question.
In October 2015 it was announced that Scappaticci was to be investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland over at least 24 murders.
In June 2016 it was announced that this investigation would be carried out by Bedfordshire Police and would examine the possible involvement of members of the RUC, Army and MI5 in murders carried out by the IRA, and their knowledge of them through the information supplied via Stakeknife.
Freddie Scappaticci (born c. 1946) was a purported former high-level double agent in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), known by the codename Stakeknife.
Scappaticci was born around 1946 and grew up in the Markets area of Belfast, the son of Daniel Scappaticci, an Italian immigrant to the city in the 1920s. In 1962 at the age of 16 he was encouraged to sign for the football club Nottingham Forest although his father is said to have resisted the idea. He took up work as a bricklayer.
He was fined for riotous assembly in 1970 after being caught up in “the Troubles” and, one year later, was interned without trial at the age of 25 as part of Operation Demetrius. Among those interned with him were figures later to become prominent in the republican movement, such as Ivor Bell, Gerry Adams, and Alex Maskey. He was released from detention in 1974 and was by this time a member of the Provisional IRA.
By 1980, Scappaticci was a lead member in the Internal Security Unit (ISU) for the IRA Northern Command. The ISU was a unit tasked with counter-intelligence and the investigation of leaks within the IRA along with the exposure of moles/informers (also known as “touts”). Via the ISU, Scappaticci played a key role in investigating suspected informers, conducting inquiries into operations suspected of being compromised, debriefing of IRA volunteers released from Royal Ulster Constabulary and British Army questioning, and vetting of potential IRA recruits. The ISU has also been referred to as the “Nutting Squad”. Various killings as a result of ISU activities have been attributed to Scappaticci.
After the original allegations broke in 2003, Scappaticci, by now living in the Riverdale area of West Belfast, claimed his involvement with the IRA ended in 1990 due to his wife’s illness. He denied that he had ever been linked to any facet of the British intelligence services, including the Force Research Unit.
Involvement with British Intelligence
Scappaticci’s first involvement with British Intelligence is alleged to have been in 1978, two years before the Force Research Unit (FRU) was formed in 1980. He is said to have worked as an agent for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch. The role of the FRU was to centralise Army Intelligence under the Intelligence Corps.
The former FRU agent turned whistleblower using the pseudonym “Martin Ingram” has said in his 2004 book Stakeknife that Scappaticci eventually developed into an agent handled by British Army Intelligence via the FRU. Ingram says that Scapaticci’s activities as a high grade intelligence source came to his attention in 1982 after Scappaticci was detained for a drunk driving offence. In 2003, Scappaticci was alleged to have volunteered as an informer in 1978 after being assaulted in an argument with a fellow IRA member. Ingram paints Scappaticci at this time as “the crown jewels”, (the best) agent handled by the FRU.
He cites a number of allegations against Scappaticci. His accusations centre on various individuals who died as a result of the activities of the ISU between 1980 and 1990. Ingram also alleges that Scappaticci disclosed information to British intelligence on IRA operations during the time period, involving:
IRA members involved in the kidnapping of wealthy Irish supermarket magnate Ben Dunne in 1981. Ingram alleges that Scappaticci was influential in identifying his kidnappers to the authorities.
The attempted kidnapping of Galen Weston, a Canadian born business tycoon in 1983. Weston kept a manor outside Dublin where the kidnapping was to take place.
The kidnapping of supermarket boss Don Tidey from his home in Rathfarnham in Dublin. Ingram alleges that Scappaticci tipped off the FRU on the details of the kidnapping which eventually resulted in the killings of a trainee Garda Síochána (Gary Sheehan) and an Irish Army soldier (Private Patrick Kelly).
Aside from providing intelligence to the FRU, Scappaticci is alleged to have worked closely with his FRU handlers throughout the 1980s and 1990s to protect and promote his position within the IRA. The controversy that has arisen centres on the allegation by Ingram that Scappaticci’s role as an informer was protected by the FRU through the deaths of those who might have been in a position to expose him as a British agent.
On 11th April 2017, the BBC’s Panorama programme featured a report on ‘Stakeknife’ entitled “The Spy in the IRA”. Amongst those appearing are the current Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Stevens, ‘Martin Ingram’ and several others from Northern Ireland.
Involvement with the Cook Report
In 1993 Scappaticci approached the ITV programme The Cook Report and agreed to an interview on his activities in the IRA and the alleged role of Martin McGuinness in the organisation. The first interview took place on 26th August 1993 in the car park of the Culloden Hotel in Cultra, County Down. This interview was, unknown to Scappaticci, recorded and eventually found its way into an edition of the programme. The interview was posted on the World Wide Web as the 2003 allegations against Scappaticci surfaced.
Scappaticci appears to give intimate details of the modus operandi of the IRA’s Northern Command, indicated some of his previous involvement in the organisation and alleges, amongst other things, that Martin McGuinness was involved in the death of Frank Hegarty – an IRA volunteer who had been killed as an informer by the IRA in 1986. It has since been alleged that Scappaticci knew the intimate details of Hegarty’s killing because, as part of his duties in the ISU, he had reportedly been involved in the interrogation and execution of Hegarty regarding a large Libyan arms cache, which the Gardaí found. Ingram stated that Hegarty was a FRU agent whom other FRU members had encouraged to rise through the organisation and gain the confidence of key IRA members. His allegations indicate that, to the handlers of the FRU, it was more important to keep Stakeknife in place rather than save the life of Hegarty.
Involvement with the Stevens Report
Things deteriorated for Scappaticci when Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan police commissioner who has been probing RUC and British Army collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the killing of Protestant student, Brian Adam Lambert in 1987 and the killing of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989, revealed that he knew of his existence. In April 2004, Stevens signalled that he intended to question Scappaticci as part of the third Stevens inquiry.
A report in a February 2007 edition of the Belfast News Letter reported that a cassette recording allegedly of Scappaticci talking about the number of murders he was involved in via the “Nutting Squad”, as well as his work as an Army agent, had been lodged with the PSNI in 2004 and subsequently passed to the Stevens Inquiry in 2005. It is unclear whether this audio is a recording made via the Cook Report investigation. There were several inconsistencies with the various media reports alleging that Scappaticci was Stakeknife. The Provisional IRA reportedly assured Scappaticci of their belief in his denials, and has issued public statements suggesting that the announcement of the former as a “tout” was a stunt by the British government to undermine Sinn Féin and the Republican movement.