The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has published the interim report of Operation Kenova –  an independent police investigation into the Army Agent codenamed “Stakeknife” who operated within the Provisional IRA’s internal security unit during the Troubles. Jon Boutcher led the investigation prior to his appointment as Chief Constable of PSNI in 2023 and it is now led by Sir Iain Livingstone, former Chief Constable of Scotland.

Oliver Sanders KC has worked closely with the investigation team since 2017, advising on various public law and civil law matters and, in particular, the content and publication of the interim report. Jasper Gold also advised on the Maxwellisation process.

The report is critical of both the security forces and the IRA and contains a number of significant findings and recommendations. While acknowledging that the security forces were faced with extremely challenging circumstances to which there was often ‘no right answer’, the report finds that they were frequently aware of imminent abductions and murders by the IRA of suspected agents and yet failed to protect those at risk. As a result, preventable deaths occurred and those responsible were not brought to justice and were instead left free to re-offend. The lack of any legal or policy framework to guide agent handling operations at the time is described as a very serious failing which “put lives at risk, left those on the frontline exposed and fostered a maverick culture where agent handling was sometimes seen as a high-stakes ‘dark art’ practised ‘off the books’”.

So far as concerns Stakeknife, the report finds: he was involved in very serious and wholly unjustifiable criminality, including murder; claims that his intelligence saved ‘countless’ or ‘hundreds’ of lives are exaggerated; the number of lives he saved is between high single figures and low double figures and nowhere near hundreds; and it is likely that his crimes as an agent resulted in more lives being lost than were saved.

Press release and full report:

Operation Kenova Interim Report published | PSNI

Operation Kenova Interim Report | Police Service of Northern Ireland (

Press coverage:

Scappaticci: Report says Army’s top IRA spy cost more lives than he saved – BBC News

More lives lost than saved in Troubles due to British spy, report finds | Northern Ireland | The Guardian