The Stakeknife affair was still mired in contradiction last night. The Army denied its long-time agent in the IRA was in its custody, but security sources said he had been helped to leave Northern Ireland.
Freddie Scappaticci, the west Belfast republican who has been identified as Stakeknife, said through his solicitor that he had never been an informer or agent. He described himself as "an ordinary working man" forced to go into hiding because of the "onslaught of false allegations" that had placed his life in danger.
Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, told the Dail he had raised the issue with the British Government but had not been able to obtain any information about the Army intelligence unit which ran Stakeknife as an agent.
The Ministry of Defence said Stakeknife was not in Army custody, a spokesman referring to the fact that Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, had said he wished to interview the agent. He said: "Sir John Stevens has made it known that he wishes to interview Stakeknife in connection with his ongoing inquiry. It would therefore be inappropriate for the Ministry of Defence to comment further."
The ministry's comments leave open the possibility that the agent may not be formally held by the Army. He maybe receiving shelter from it or have made his own living arrangements. Another possibility, strongly rumoured in Belfast, is that he could be with another agency such as MI5.
Sinn Fein condemned "allegations, speculation and disinformation", calling for a full independent judicial inquiry into the activities of intelligence agencies. The Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty, echoing recent calls for the IRA to declare the war is over, said: "Clearly the war is not over for British intelligence agencies."
In the statement issued on behalf of Mr Scappaticci, his solicitor, Michael Flanigan, said: "A number of most serious allegations have been made about my client in the press since Sunday.
"My client denies each and every one of these allegations. "He is not 'Stakeknife'. He has never been an informer, has never contacted the intelligence services, has never been taken into protective custody and has never received any money from the security services."
"My client is the victim of misinformation, apparently emanating from the security forces and disseminated by the press. He has not been arrested and no attempt has been made by the police to speak to him about any of the matters referred to by the media. He has not been contacted by the Stevens investigation team."
Could these 'informers' have been saved?
These people were shot dead by the IRA between 1984 and 1990, a period in which the Army agent Stakeknife was second-in-command of the organisation's security department, whose purpose was to locate and kill informers.
The question is whether, in many or all of the killings, Army intelligence knew that a killing was imminent but did not intervene in order to protect theagent.
KEVIN PATRICK COYLE: Shot dead in Londonderry in 1985, he was married with three children. The IRA said he was an informer. A taped confession was given to his family. The RUC called the claimsa "tissue of lies".
CATHERINE AND GERARD MAHON: The young couple were shot dead in Belfast in 1985. The IRA said they had worked for British intelligence since his arrest for unpaid fines.
DAMIEN McCRORY: Shot by the IRA aged 20 in 1985. The IRA said he admitted under interrogation to working for the police for 13 months.
FRANK HEGARTY: A Londonderry man, his body was found on a border road in 1986. His eyes had been taped shut.
PATRICK MURRAY: Killed and left in an alley in Belfast, aged 30. His eyes were taped. The IRA said he was in the pay of the RUC.
DAVID McVEIGH: A labourer, married with three children, the Co Armagh man was found on a border road in 1986. He allegedly turned informer after his arrest over an explosion.
CHARLES McILMURRAY: A Belfast taxi-driver, married with two children. The IRA said he turned informer in return for having a drink-driving charge dropped. His body was left on the border.
EAMONN MAGUIRE: The father of two children, his body was found on a border road in 1987. The IRA alleged he had been a Garda informer for eight years, but his family denied this.
ANTHONY McKIERNAN: Married with four children, he was found shot in Belfast in 1988. He had been plied with enough alcohol to kill him.
JOSEPH FENTON: An estate agent found shot in Belfast in 1989. The IRA said he provided them with "safe houses" which were then bugged by the security forces.
JOHN McANULTY: Abducted from a pub near Dundalk in 1989, aged 48, he was beaten and burnt before being shot in the head.Reuse content