A major independent police probe into the Army’s notorious IRA agent Stakeknife is not a witch hunt against members of the security forces, the officer in charge said.
Bedfordshire Police Chief Constable Jon Boutcher said he was rigorously but fairly gathering information about the high-ranking mole who reputedly led the republican organisation’s “nutting squad”, which brutally interrogated and murdered suspected spies and informers during the Northern Ireland conflict.
Witnesses have told how records were removed or invented by members of the security forces as part of the wealth of new information unearthed, Mr Boutcher said.
New DNA profiles and suspect fingerprints have also been uncovered by his detectives and they are due to present files to prosecutors next year in a bid to secure convictions decades after the original wrongdoing.
Mr Boutcher said: “It is not a witch hunt, it is not a re-writing of history, but it is an authentic search for the truth.
“It is an investigation that will pull no punches, taking place for the families who have never had an investigation.”
Dozens of detectives are probing more than 50 murders. Suspects including members of the security forces and the Provisional IRA are being brought in for questioning.
In 2003, Stakeknife was widely named as west Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci, but he has always strongly denied the allegation.
They included DNA and fingerprint and new exhibits from families.
Mr Boutcher added: “I can present a wealth of new information, of evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
“I need to make sure that information is sufficient to persuade him to prosecute people responsible for these offences.”
The probe is centred on possible crimes by paramilitaries, agents and Army and police handlers linked to Stakeknife, allegedly the military’s highest-ranking spy within the IRA.
Multiple murders, attempted murders, torture and unlawful imprisonments are included.
Operation Kenova, the name for the investigation, has gathered more than 12,000 documents, secured 1,000 statements and conducted 129 interviews with witnesses, victims and families resulting in more than 6,000 investigative actions.
Mr Boutcher said his detectives had access to every document in unedited and at times poorly-indexed form.
Most of those whom detectives have spoken to have been victims or witnesses, but various suspects have been identified, the senior officer added.
Investigators based in London and Belfast also conducted full forensic reviews on numerous murder and abduction cases which have led to 199 requests for new forensic examinations, resulting in several new DNA profiles and suspect fingerprints.
Mr Boutcher said: “Now I think, time will tell, it is the right time for an investigation like this because of the development of the forensic opportunity that we have got.
“Although these investigations are difficult the longer ago that something occurred, they are not impossible – it is not out of reach to find the truth.
“As long as that is done in a fair and even-handed way to everybody, there should be no concerns from the security forces, the paramilitaries, political parties, Government, about an investigation because it is what everybody with any decency should advocate for and want.”