Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman has launched an investigation into twenty IRA murders of alleged informers working within their ranks during the 1980s and 90s. The inquiry aims to discover if the British security forces could have prevented any of the murders taking place.

The investigation, by the Historical Investigations Directorate, will look at role played by a double agent, known as Stakeknife, in these murders. Freddie Scappaticci was identified as Stakeknife in 2003. Scappaticci was a republican activist who fled Belfast more than a decade ago once his identity had been revealed.

Stakeknife is believed to have been the head of the IRA’s “nutting squad” (torturing abductees until they cracked, as in cracking a nut), or counter-intelligence movement, working with the British from within the IRA. Although Scappaticci confirms previous involvement in the IRA, he denies being Stakeknife or having had any involvement with British military intelligence.

Family members of those interrogated by the IRA have recently launched a compensation case against the British government, claiming that the murdered informers had been “set up” so as to protect Stakeknife, considered one of the British government’s most important spies.

The Police Ombudsman’s office has since contacted members of the families who launched compensation cases to inform them that a “thematic approach” inquiry is now underway, the Guardian reports.

A letter sent to Kevin Winters, one of the lawyers representing the victims, says: “The police ombudsman [Dr Michael Maguire] is investigating a number of referrals from the chief constable and complaints from members of the public, relating to the preventability of murders, alleged to have been perpetrated by republican paramilitaries, of individuals accused of having acted as informants for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the conduct of related police investigations.”

Earlier this month, a previous letter to Winters said, “Material gathered during the investigation of the referral from the director of public prosecutions in relation to the James Martin et al matter is held within this parallel, ongoing ‘complex’ investigation.”

In 1991, James Martin, a client of Winters, was convicted of imprisoning and interrogating a Special Branch Informant abducted by the IRA, although the conviction was eventually quashed in 2009. It was during the original case in the 90s that Scappaticci’s name first emerged in an open court and he was described a a senior IRA commander.

Speaking to the Guardian, a spokesperson for the office of the ombudsman confirmed that they were “carrying out a major investigation into matters connected to a significant number of murders and other terrorist incidents in Northern Ireland during the 1980s and 1990s.

“The murders were carried out by the IRA, which alleged at the time that its victims were informants for the security forces.”

The spokesperson continued to say that the investigation was underway following claims that murders could have been prevented by British security forces and that there were cases where individuals were subsequently protected from any investigations into these murders to avoid their identity being revealed.

The spokesperson continued, “While most of the complaints we receive concern allegations relating to individual incidents, in this case we identified wider issues connected to a series of murders which needed further investigation. We then broadened our investigation to look at those themes and issues.

H/T: The Guardian