The chilling sound that signaled death for IRA ‘informers’


Throughout my fifty years of covering the conflict in Northern Ireland, there is one sound in particular that continues to haunt me above all others.


It sounds like a pan hitting, not like explosives and gunfire.


That noise was the cue for suspected informants to start admitting they had been working for the “Brits” on recordings captured by the IRA’s infamous Internal Security Unit (ISU).


The tapes were given to families as purported evidence of their deceit. According to Martin McGuinness, the IRA leader at the time, the informants faced “death, certainly” as their punishment.

These terrifying recordings are key pieces of evidence in Operation Kenova, a seven-year police investigation. It will provide its preliminary results later this week.

The chilling sound that signaled death for IRA 'informers'

The operations of British agent “Stakeknife,” whose true name is Freddie Scappaticci and who is considered the army’s most influential source at the top of the IRA, are the main subject of Kenova’s work.

Scappaticci, who passed away last year, personified the covert conflict that the IRA and Britain’s intelligence services waged.


Apart from serving as a spy for the British army, he assumed the job of chief interrogator at the ISU and is suspected of being involved in 17 murders.


Kenova is also looking into the legacy of Stakeknife and the ISU, namely the dozens of bereaved families whose loved ones were ruthlessly murdered by the IRA after being questioned as possible informants.

Former Bedfordshire Chief Constable and current head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Jon Boutcher, managed Kenova for seven years. “This investigation now gives those victims, those family members, the opportunity to tell their story,” Boutcher stated. Sir Iain Livingstone, the former leader of Police Scotland, has succeeded him.