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Operation Kenova: report finds Army’s IRA spy likely cost more lives than he saved

A recent report from Operation Kenova, a seven-year investigation into the activities of the Army spy known as Stakeknife, who operated within the IRA during the Troubles, has concluded that the agent likely cost more lives than he saved, challenging previous speculation that he had saved hundreds.

The report revealed that the security forces failed to prevent certain murders to safeguard their agents within the IRA. However, it emphasized that the IRA leadership was responsible for authorizing the actions of its internal security unit, including the Army agent, Stakeknife, which committed acts of torture and murder. The investigation called for apologies from both the UK government and the Irish republican leadership on behalf of the IRA.

Lawyer Kevin Winters, representing the families of 12 victims, characterised the report as a “damning indictment of the state,” highlighting the conclusion that the state and the IRA were complicit in the murder of citizens.

The report, authored by senior police officer Jon Boutcher, linked Stakeknife to at least 14 murders and 15 abductions. For Winters, the “staggering takeaway message is that the state could have intervened to save lives.”

Boutcher acknowledged the failings of the security forces and the UK government, noting however the challenging and violent environment in which they operated. Despite Stakeknife’s role as a valuable asset to the security forces, providing intelligence about the Provisional IRA at considerable personal risk, the report emphasised that not all of his intelligence was acted upon, and more decisive action could have prevented certain murders. 

The report highlighted the Public Prosecution Service’s inadequate funding for progressing legacy casework, leading to the decision not to prosecute anyone based on the report’s findings. While the use of agents by security forces was acknowledged as having saved lives and diminished terrorist effectiveness, the report outlined instances where preventable crimes occurred to protect agents. It also underscored the failures in protecting victims and bringing terrorists to justice.

The report concluded by recommending a day of remembrance for everyone affected during the Troubles, and highlighted the need for the republican leadership to acknowledge and apologise for the IRA’s actions.