Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Stakeknife" was the code name of a high-level spy who successfully infiltrated the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) while working for the Force Research Unit (FRU), a British military intelligence unit.[1][2] Stakeknife allegedly worked as an FRU informant for 25 years.[2]

Stakeknife has been accused of being a double agent who was involved in the IRA's torture and murder of suspected informers while in the employ of the FRU.[3][4] The British government launched Operation Kenova to investigate claims that the Royal Ulster Constabulary had failed to investigate up to 18 murders, to protect Stakeknife's identity from exposure.

In January 2018, Freddie Scappaticci was arrested amid accusations that he was Stakeknife, a claim widely acknowledged to be accurate. Scappaticci always publicly denied he was Stakeknife.[5] Scappaticci reportedly died in 2023 aged 77. In March 2024, the interim Kenova report was published, authored by Jon Boutcher.[3]



"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.[6] It has been alleged that Stakeknife's intelligence handlers allowed up to 40 people to be killed by the IRA's Internal Security Unit, also known as the "Nutting Squad", to protect his cover.[7]

Stakeknife revealed


In 1987, Sam McCrory, an Ulster Defence Association/"Ulster Freedom Fighters" member, killed 66-year-old Francisco Notarantonio at his home in Ballymurphy in West Belfast.[8] The UDA/UFF had decided to murder the republican sympathiser who unknowingly had been targeted by the Force Research Unit (FRU) to divert attention away from Scappaticci.[9] It has been alleged that it was FRU agent Brian Nelson who gave Notarantonio's name to the UDA/UFF to protect the identity of Stakeknife.[9]

On 11 May 2003, Scappaticci was named as Stakeknife, the British spy who had operated at the very highest levels of the IRA for more than 20 years in Northern Ireland, by the Glasgow-based Sunday Herald, the Irish edition of the People, and by Irish papers the Sunday Tribune and Sunday World.[10]

Scappaticci, born in Belfast to Italian parents, denied the claims and launched an unsuccessful legal action to force the British government, to publicly state that he was not their agent. 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.[11]

A 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.[12] In June 2016, it was announced that this investigation would be carried out by Bedfordshire Police and would examine the alleged activities of Stakeknife and possible crimes by IRA members and members of the British security services.[13] Scappaticci was arrested in connection with Operation Kenova in January 2018.[5]

On 29 October 2020, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland decided that there was insufficient evidence to put him on trial on charges of perjury.[14] Stephen Herron, the PPS director in the area, also ruled out prosecutions of former members of the security services who are understood to have been his handlers as well as a former member of the PPS.[14] This meant that there was little chance of him appearing in a criminal trial during the final years of his life, despite a multimillion pound investigation into his role as a state agent inside the IRA.[14]

Scappaticci died in April 2023 without being charged.[15] The general officer, Sir John Wilsey who commanded the British army in Northern Ireland between 1983-1990, described agent Stakeknife as “the golden egg” of military intelligence’s agents during the Troubles. General Wilsey's opinion is that Stakeknife saved “hundreds and hundreds of lives”.[16] He was also suspected of tipping off British security chiefs about the IRA operation in Gibraltar in 1998, in which three IRA members were killed.[17]

On 5 March 2024, journalist Peter Taylor was permitted to publish a video of Scappaticci wearing a dressing gown outside his former home, in 2004. "In addition to spying for the British army, he was also the ISU's [IRA's, Internal Security Unit] chief interrogator, in which role he is believed to have been involved in 17 murders." BBC documentary, Our Dirty War: The British State and the IRA; had been prevented from publishing the video footage of the British agent, for twenty-years, until now, Scappaticci is seen threatening and saying "I'll do you" if the photographer continues to film.[18][19] In March 2024, the interim Kenova report, said more lives were lost than saved through agent Stakeknife activities.[3]


  1. ^ "Focus: Scappaticci's past is secret no more". The Times. London. 18 May 2003. Archived from the original on 11 March 2007. Retrieved 11 February 2007.
  2. ^ a b Cowan, Rosie (12 May 2003). "He did the IRA's dirty work for 25 years - and was paid £80,000 a year by the government". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 February 2007.
  3. ^ a b c "Operation Kenova Interim Report | Police Service of Northern Ireland".
  4. ^ McDonald, Henry; Cobain, Ian (30 January 2018). "IRA informer 'Stakeknife' arrested in murder investigation". The Guardian.
  5. ^ a b Farmer, Ben (30 January 2018). "Army spy 'Stakeknife' who was head of IRA's internal security is arrested in investigation over murders". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  6. ^ Cowan, Rosie (12 May 2003). "He did the IRA's dirty work for 25 years - and was paid £80,000 a year by the government". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  7. ^ "Murder fear after naming of IRA spy". The Telegraph. London. 12 May 2003. Retrieved 11 February 2007.
  8. ^ Wood, Ian S. Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. p.125
  9. ^ a b Mullin, John (25 September 2000). "Was an IRA informer so valuable that murder was committed to protect him?". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  10. ^ Byrne, Ciar (15 May 2003). "We were right to name Stakeknife, say reporters". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 March 2024.
  11. ^ "Stakeknife tape emerges after News Letter probe". Belfast Today. 5 February 2007. Retrieved 11 February 2007.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "Stakeknife: Army's most high ranking agent within the IRA to be quizzed about 24 murders". BBC News. 21 October 2015. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
  13. ^ "Stakeknife: Actions of IRA members, agents, Army and police to be examined". BBC News Online. 10 June 2016.
  14. ^ a b c McDonald, Henry (29 October 2020). "Stakeknife scandal: Freddie Scappaticci avoids perjury charge". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  15. ^ Carroll, Rory (11 April 2023). "Man suspected of being Stakeknife, Britain's top spy in IRA, dies". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 April 2023.
  16. ^ McDonald, Henry (2 October 2019). "British spy in IRA and 20 others could be charged with Troubles-era crimes". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 March 2024.
  17. ^ Byrne, Ciar (12 May 2003). "Stakeknife row escalates". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 March 2024.
  18. ^ "The sound that signalled death for IRA 'informers'". BBC News. 5 March 2024. Retrieved 5 March 2024.
  19. ^ Spotlight - Our Dirty War: The British State and the IRA, retrieved 5 March 2024

Further reading