Will Stakeknife Inquiry defy the Stalker precedent?

Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, of Bedfordshire Police, said this week that he has evidence to bring a number of prosecutions in relation to the activities of the alleged British Army agent inside the IRA known as 'Stakeknife'.

According to the BBC, the Stakeknife investigation, Operation Kenova, could recommend the prosecution of members of the IRA, MI5 and the Army's Force Research Unit.

It's worth recalling that this wouldn't be the first time that a police investigation had recommended prosecutions of MI5 officers in Northern Ireland.

In 1986, the removal of John Stalker from the leadership of an investigation into RUC 'shoot-to-kill' allegations sparked huge controversy. His successor, Colin Sampson, nevertheless recommended prosecutions. The Director of Public Prosecutions accepted there was evidence of crime, but concluded trials were not in the public interest, bowing to pressure from Attorney-General Patrick Mayhew, who argued national security would be affected.

At the time it was assumed that only RUC officers were in the frame, but a 2015 Guardian article by Iain Cobain revealed that the Sampson report recommended prosecution of the two most senior MI5 officers in Northern Ireland, (which I take to mean the Director and Co-ordinator of Intelligence (DCI) and his Deputy), for their role in the destruction of the so-called Hayshed tape recording the 1982 killing of Michael Tighe by the RUC.

I believe that the DCI at the time of Tighe's killing was Harold Doyne-Ditmas, who died in 2015. However, I am not sure that he was the DCI who presided over the destruction of the tape. His name disappears from Northern Ireland Office files in 1984, during the Stalker investigation, around the time that references begin to appear to another MI5 officer, with a background in colonial policing.

It's quite possible that some individual MI5 officers will have come under scrutiny from both the Shoot to Kill and Stakeknife inquiries. Will Boutcher's recommendations come to anything more than Stalker and Sampson's?

One added complication this time is that MI5 officers could be in the dock with IRA members. Any state intervention would face the question of whether to aid the latter as well as the former, a dilemma that Mayhew did not have to deal with.

There is currently a strong mood at Westminster against Northern Ireland historical investigations. Some MPs are so opposed to prosecutions of security force members that they are prepared to concede an amnesty for paramilitaries if it is necessary to secure them. Operation Kenova may bring that issue to a head.



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