Freddie Scappaticci, the man named as Stakeknife, began an extraordinary legal challenge yesterday by trying to force the Government to publicly deny he was an army agent at the heart of the IRA.
Last month he was named by some newspapers as a long-term British agent and the IRA's chief interrogator of alleged informers. Now Mr Scappaticci, 57, is using European human rights law in an attempt to clear his name.
He has strongly denied the reports and yesterday asked the High Court in Belfast to force the Government to make a public statement because of the "very serious risk" to his life. His lawyer, Michael Lavery QC, told the court Mr Scappaticci, from west Belfast, "has received some notoriety in the past number of days and has been subjected to a campaign of vilification in the press".
He called his client's case "very simple", and added: "The British Government knows whether there is a state agent known as Stakeknife and whether Mr Scappaticci is that person. The continued assertion that Mr Scappaticci is in fact Stakeknife has resulted in very serious risk to his life."
He said Mr Scappaticci had written to the Secretary of State, seeking a statement that he was not Stakeknife, but the Government had replied that it did not comment on security matters, including the identity of agents. Mr Lavery said no serious consideration was given to the request, but that the minister should be obliged to make the statement under the human rights convention to protect Mr Scappaticci's life.
Mr Lavery dismissed a suggestion by Declan Morgan QC, for the Northern Ireland Secretary, that Mr Scappaticci could request information on himself using the Data Protection Act. This was a "bureaucratic" answer that would delay matters, he said. "The threat to his life is immediate and requires urgent action." The days when Government decisions went unchallenged because "they knew best" were past, he said, and there was a right to look at such decisions.
Mr Justice Kerr said the argument presumed a government statement would be in Mr Scappaticci's favour.
Mr Lavery said: "Mr Scappaticci knows the truth and knows the Government may give the wrong answer but that is his choice. He has been consistent in his denial and it is a mark of his confidence that he is prepared to continue with this case."
Mr Morgan said he did not believe a statement from the Secretary of State would make "a button of difference" to anyone who wanted to harm Mr Scappaticci. He said there was nothing to indicate any direct threat to him. The judge said he would give his decision next week.
After the allegations against Mr Scappaticci were made, some reports said he had been spirited away from Belfast by his British army handlers. But within days he appeared at a news conference at the office of his Belfast solicitor and strongly denied the claims. He said he not been involved in the republican movement for 13 years.
Government critics said that if Mr Scappaticci really was Stakeknife, he would be guilty of colluding in the murders of IRA volunteers, police officers, soldiers and civilians. Mr Scappaticci was also said to be marked for questioning by the inquiry led by Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, into claims of collusion between the security forces and paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, although there is no suggestion this has happened.Reuse content