Stakeknife is in the Police Ombudsman’s frame, but has he the tools to do the job?

One of the casualties of the failure to implement the Stormont House Agreement is I presume, the extra £150 million due to have been allocated over five years for dealing with the past. Although I know of no details of how the funding was to be shared out, some of it would have been apportioned to the Police Ombudsman, an office whose reputation has been revived by the redoubtable Dr Michael Maguire.  He issued a warning last year of the consequences of budget cuts  at a time when his  case load was dramatically increasing.

Plans to begin work on some high-profile cases within six to 12 months have had to be postponed. Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire was to have examined claims of criminal misconduct by Royal Ulster Constabulary officers, including collusion and conspiracy to murder and perverting the course of justice. They include the IRA killing of ten Protestant workers near the County Armagh village of Kingsmills in 1976, the murders of 12 people at La Mon Hotel, outside Belfast and what has become known as the Glennane series – more than 70 murders in counties Armagh and Tyrone in the 1970s.

Dr Maguire said: “The reduction in budget has undermined our ability to deal with the past.

“The number of complaints we have received about historical matters has doubled since 2012 – we now have almost 300 cases. I had hoped that the additional funding we had requested could have allowed us to complete these cases within six years, but suspect they may now take 12 years or more.”

Even so, he forges ahead.  In April the Guardian exclusively reported on investigations  reaching into the heart of collusion investigation.

“One of those who has instructed KRW Law is Frank Mulhern, the father of Joe Mulhern, who was killed in 1993. Frank Mulhern believes his son was killed by the IRA in west Belfast because he was suspected as being an informer giving information about the IRA to the RUC, and that one of the suspects in his murder was Fred Scappaticci, known as Stakeknife, a high ranking officer in the IRA, now considered to have been a British agent.

In a follow-up today, Owen Boycott gives other examples of such cases:

The revelation in April that Northern Ireland’s police ombudsman is conducting an investigation into whether the murders could have been prevented has triggered legal claims against the Ministry of Defence and the man identified as the army’s highest ranking agent in the IRA…

The key issue is whether double agents within the IRA were permitted to commit crimes – even murder – in order to gain the trust of paramilitary organisations or sacrifice IRA members to protect their own position.

Will they trigger similar cries of international outrage to those which accompany the investigations into the disappeared?  They will also provide stern tests of the willingness of the police past and present, to cooperate. And not only the police,  but wherever the investigations lead.  From La Mon House to the activities of the nutting squad, all sides the community are affected.  If it takes twelve years to produce results, the families may come to believe that they’ve got the worst of all worlds, the chance of truth, but strung out on the rack for years.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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