The Stakeknife Affair


Among some of the stories that have appeared in the newspapers in relation to ‘Stakeknife’, the alleged senior IRA informer, is that he was involved in setting up myself and others for arrest thirteen years ago.

On Sunday, 7th January, 1990, I was contacted by the IRA who said that one of their members who they had arrested and interrogated had admitted being an informer. This man, Sandy Lynch, had also confessed that his Special Branch handlers had been forcing him to set up for assassination two well-known north Belfast republicans. They wanted these two men killed in revenge for an undercover operation that had gone wrong, resulting in the death of one of their colleagues.

In November 1989 Lynch had tipped off his handlers that a rifle was being moved to a house in Belfast’s New Lodge Road area, in preparation for an ambush. Incredibly, two different groups of policemen, none aware of the presence of the other, raided the house from the front and the back, shot at each other, resulting in the death of RUC officer Ian Johnston. The Special Branch was furious, Lynch had claimed.

Lynch was abducted and questioned by the IRA after a number of IRA operations had gone wrong and suspicion fell on him. Lynch admitted being an informer. He agreed that he would go to a Sinn Fein press conference and would name his handlers and accuse them of forcing him to set the two men up for assassination.

It was a ‘good’ story, further proof of an RUC policy of shoot-to-kill. I was the Sinn Fein director of publicity and was sent for. But when I arrived at the house to meet Lynch, a raiding party of British army and police jeeps swept into the street behind me. I tried to escape but was arrested next door. Lynch, whom I never met, gave evidence in our trial and said that whilst he had agreed to go to a press conference he didn’t believe it would happen and was convinced that he was going to be shot. We were variously sentenced to between eight and twelve years imprisonment.

At our trial Lynch – who was also found to be a liar by the judge – said that one of his interrogators was Freddie Scappaticci and that Scappaticci withdrew from the house on Saturday night. I had arrived on Sunday night. In the early seventies I had been interned in Long Kesh at the same time as ‘Scap’, as he was known, but I doubt if I have spoken to him more than once or twice since, and certainly not in the last fourteen years.

In October 2000 the British Ministry of Defence issued gagging notices against several newspapers prohibiting them from naming an IRA informer working for British Intelligence’s Force Research Unit and whose codename was Stakeknife. On the back of collusion allegations and the Stevens Inquiry there was a claim that in order to protect Stakeknife from a UFF assassination bid in 1987 Brian Nelson, at the behest of FRU, diverted a UFF murder gang to the home of Ballymurphy man Francisco Notarantonio whom they shot dead.

I have always found something odd about this story. Surely, when this was revealed in October 2000 the UFF men involved in the 1987 killing would have remembered who was their thwarted target? After all, Nelson had been unmasked as a British agent in 1990 and loyalists are bound to have reflected and speculated on Nelson’s decisions. There is only one conclusion: loyalists, who notoriously cannot keep secrets, did not know who Stakeknife was.

If Stakeknife was such a senior figure, sabotaging the IRA, then throughout the past ten years he or she did not do such a great job when one recalls the mortar attack on 10 Downing Street in 1991 and the bombings in Bishopsgate and Canary Wharf or on the British army’s HQ in Lisburn in 1997 when a soldier lost his life. It is alleged that last year the IRA broke into the Special Branch HQ at Castlereagh and stole intelligence files and had a spy ring at the heart of government. If so, where was Stakeknife to stop them? Had he been retired or come under suspicion and been frozen out?

Stakeknife’s usefulness as an informant might have expired, but rumours of his existence and claims about his seniority and influence, however preposterous, have been used in recent years by British Intelligence in an attempt to sow confusion and fuel republican dissent. Republican dissidents enthusiastically latched on to these reports to support the contention that he or she was someone close to the Adams’ leadership and that Stakeknife – through his or her dirty work - had enervated the IRA’s capabilities and steered the movement towards compromise and the peace process - as if republicans weren’t clever enough to work out for themselves the wisdom and justice of the peace strategy.

I think we can take with a pinch of salt some of the more lurid claims being made in so-called quality newspapers about the state of morale within the Republican Movement. One national newspaper wrote: “Meanwhile in the North the IRA appealed last night for calm among members, but some spoke of "the heart being ripped out" of the organisation by the controversy, which had the potential to destroy it.”

I live in West Belfast, where it is claimed that Stakeknife has been living for over twenty years. The above newspaper quote reflects nothing of the true stoic mood of the people in this area who examine closely all that has been said and who is saying what. And what they see is bizarre.

For years the British Ministry of Defence issued gagging orders against newspapers, which said they knew and would reveal the real identity of Stakeknife (whose name they originally received from a former FRU officer). When those newspapers did just that last weekend, the MoD was uncharacteristically talkative.

Firstly, it said that Stakeknife was safely out of Ireland and was in a British army base in the south of England. Security correspondents repeated that story until a journalist from the ‘Sunday People’ found the West Belfast man who was being named, Freddie Scappaticci, at home. The MoD then stated that Stakeknife was not with them.

Secondly, MoD sources – who for years had been protecting Stakeknife –confirmed in off-the-record briefings, that the man being named in the newspapers was their agent. Why did they confirm this when they knew that no one had fled Ireland or was in their custody? Why would they break one of the cardinal rules of intelligence (which is to remain silent) and place this man in danger? Freddie Scappaticci told the journalist on Saturday night, then again through his solicitor on Monday, that no one had warned him that he was going to be named as Stakeknife and he has denied all the allegations.

Stakeknife, if he exists, can do no more damage to the IRA. But if even half of what is attributed to him is true – that he was allowed to cull informers who were no longer of any use to British Intelligence - then he is a major liability to the British Ministry of Defence and the British government because he can reveal many truths about their dirty war in Ireland.

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison