The British government has launched an investigation into one of its own spies, Stakeknife, who was the British Army’s most high-ranking agent in the IRA and is said to have operated undercover for 25 years.

The Bedfordshire police chief, Jon Boutcher, is leading the investigation which will exclude those who have served in or are currently serving in the RUC, PSNI, Ministry of Defense or MI5.

Operation Kenova, as the inquiry has been named, will examine if there is evidence of collusion, murder, attempted murder, perjury or other criminal offences by state agent Stakeknife, the British army, the security services or other government agencies.

Boutcher said he did not underestimate the challenge he faced but was committed to finding the truth and aimed to bring those involved to justice.

He said he would follow the evidence wherever it led him. This is expected to include looking at the IRA and its involvement in up 50 murders under investigation.

Stakeknife worked for the top secret Force Research Unit (FRU) of the British Army. He was linked to the IRA’s fearsome punishment “internal security” unit, which reportedly tortured its victims, usually in abandoned buildings in the Republic, before killing them

He had his own dedicated handlers and agents, and it has been suggested that he was important enough that MI5 set up an office dedicated solely to him. It is speculated that he was being paid at least £80,000 sterling a year.

West Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci fled Northern Ireland for Britain in 2003 after he was “outed” as the agent known as Stakeknife. Scappaticci has denied the allegations. There are reports that he later moved to Italy.

Recruitment for the London-based Operation Kenova team began last weekend after the announcement was delayed by a day so it did not detract attention from the publication of the Police Ombudsman’s report into the 1994 Loughinisland massacre where collusion was identified.

Operation Kenova is expected to last up to five years at a cost of £5 million-£7 million sterling a year.

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