A police watchdog in the North has confirmed it is conducting a major investigation into a series of IRA murders of alleged informants during the Troubles.
The probe by the North’s Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire is examining whether the killings in the 1980s and 1990s could have been prevented by the state and, as such, is investigating the role of British-run agents inside the IRA.
The most high-profile British agent operating within the IRA at the time was known as Stakeknife.
The wide-ranging thematic investigation into a number of murders, understood to be 20, and other terrorist incidents during the conflict, started a year ago, but the Ombudsman’s office has only now confirmed its existence.
Belfast republican Freddie Scappaticci was named as Stakeknife in 2003 – an allegation he has always denied. He left the North when the claim became public.
Frank Mulhern’s son Joe was killed in 1993 by the IRA, which alleged he was a police informer.
The Police Ombudsman’s office has confirmed details of its investigation to Mr Mulhern.
Mr Mulhern’s lawyer Kevin Winters welcomed the probe.
“The initiative is clearly right in terms of the process of delivering truth to victims and in terms of the operation of the (Ombudsman’s) Office and exposing collusion as a state practice during the conflict responsible for deaths which could have been prevented,” he said.
In confirming the investigation to Mr Winters, the Ombudsman’s Office said: “The Police Ombudsman Office can confirm that it is carrying out a major investigation into matters connected to a significant number of murders and other terrorist incidents in Northern Ireland during the 1980s and 1990s.
“The murders were carried out by the IRA, which alleged at the time that their victims were informants for the security forces.”
The Ombudsman’s Office said the investigation arose from a number of separate complaints made by members of the public and from matters referred to it by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
“They included allegations that some murders carried out during this period could have been prevented and that a number of people were subsequently protected from investigation and prosecution,” it confirmed.
“While most of the complaints we receive concern allegations relating to individual incidents, in this case we identified wider issues connected to a series of murders which needed further investigation.
“We then broadened our investigation to look at those themes and issues.
“That larger investigation has been under way for more than a year now. It is making good progress but there is still work to be done.
“We are at a stage where we can now confirm that we are carrying out such an investigation. The issues involved are extremely sensitive and we will not be providing any further information at this stage, either publicly or to any individuals.”