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IRA KILLERS WERE ALL ARMY SPIES; A TALE OF TORTURE AND BETRAYAL. AS IRA'S MOST FEARED INFORMER KILLED ANYONE WHO THREATENED HIS DOUBLE LIFE: Scappaticci executed Perry murderers.

Byline: GREG HARKIN

THE depths to which rogue members of the British security forces and agents like Freddy Scappaticci plunged are summed up by the sickening murder of Portadown woman Margaret Perry.

Earlier this year The People revealed that the Force Research Unit knew of the IRA plot to kill Miss Perry ...and did nothing about it.

Today we can also reveal that they knew Margaret Perry's three killers were going to be shot dead by the IRA.

And how did they know?

Because all three were FRU agents - and the man who killed them was another FRU agent...Freddy Scappaticci.

The People has already linked Stakeknife with at least 40 brutal murders during the Troubles but we had been banned by the British Ministry of Defence from revealing which killings he was involved in.

Today we can tell you more.

The Force Research Unit had recruited Armagh IRA members Aidan Starrs, Gregory Burns and John Dignam to work for them.

All three had dealt devastating blows to the Provisionals in Portadown and Lurgan over a number of years - not least Burns, a former election worker for hunger striker Bobby Sands whose own brother Sean was killed in the so-called 'shoot-to-kill' controversy of 1982 in an operation which he - Gregory - had helped set up.

In 1991 Burns was passing on vital information to Army Intelligence about republican activities across Northern Ireland.

The top IRA man wanted to split from his then girlfriend Margaret Perry. But there was a problem - he had told her that he was working for the British and he feared she might tell the IRA.

A former FRU source told The People earlier this year: "Burns was deeply worried and felt he had been compromised. He, Starrs and Dignam wanted out.

"He went to his handlers and told them what he wanted. They agreed - but when they sought approval from their boss he was having none of it.

"He said Burns should sort out his own mess. Burns was furious and told his handlers in no uncertain terms that he would have to kill Perry if the FRU continued to refuse to pull him out of the country.

"We knew what would happen next. We knew Burns would kill Perry rather than being found out by the IRA.

"Any man capable of setting up his own brother for assassination was capable of killing a woman too."

It was the first time British Army Intelligence officers had confirmed this scenario - which had been outlined by the IRA more than a decade ago.

Burns checked into a hospital in Sligo on June 20, 1991 for a minor operation on his arm.

The next day Starrs and Dignam offered to give Perry a lift to the hospital to see her boyfriend - but they had murder in mind.

Not far from Mullaghmore, they stopped the car and strangled the 26-year-old before beating her to death with a spade.

They buried her body in a shallow grave in a forest not far from the estate of the late Lord Mountbatten.

Within weeks of Margaret Perry's disappearance the Provos had begun an investigation into the incident, thanks mainly to investigations by the Sunday World's Martin O'Hagan.

But one man knew all along what had happened - Freddy Scappaticci.

So when the investigation turned on Burns, Dignam and Starrs a year later, Scap was the nutting squad leader who brought them in for questioning.

He would later pull the trigger on them after all three confessed - in tapes later broadcast in a ground-breaking Peter Taylor documentary for the BBC - to working for the FRU and to being involved in the murder of Perry.

On June 30 1992 Miss Perry's body was found in its shallow grave after a PIRA tip-off to a local priest.

Three days later, and 12 days after being detained by their Provo masters, the mutilated bodies of the three informers were found dumped on a border road.

All three had been stripped naked and shot twice through the head.

Cigarettes had been stubbed out on Burns's thigh and there was a poker mark on Starrs's arm.

These were clear signs the men had been tortured. and all trademarks of Freddy Scappaticci, chief Provo torturer and jailer and agent of Her Majesty's Government.

A letter from Dignam was given to his pregnant wife after his funeral.

It read: "I have only a matter of hours to live. I only wish I could see you and the kids one last time, but as you know, this is not possible."

It's a sickening tale of how people died during the Troubles and how the hand of the State was at play.

It is highly likely however that Scappaticci and all agents will eventually get an amnesty as part of an overall peace deal.

This morning, senior British policeman Sir John Stevens should announce a full-scale inquiry.

Scap was capable of killing anyone - but his motives were summed up last year by a former FRU member who knew him.

"He was a walk-in," said the source. "He literally walked into an Army base far from where he lives and offered to work for us.

"He knows he can leave any time. He has a small fortune to spend and he could go anywhere in the world.

"But he's always lured to stay with the promise of more money and the 'excitement' of the deadly game he plays. He seems to really enjoy it. It's almost like an addiction.

"The problem is that one day he might just be caught and he'll never get to enjoy that fortune."

Today his staunchly republican family in north and west Belfast will be devastated.

One family friend told us: "This will be hard on the family.

"Many relatives are staunch republicans and Scap has a seriously hard reputation so it's going to really hurt."

A senior republican admitted: "This will devastate the republican movement.

"To a certain extent there will be relief because it will nail the lie that Stakeknife is a political figure who drove the peace process.

"But on the other hand the Provos will be devastated that the man they left in charge of their security was in fact an agent for the British government.

"How do they launch a security unit inquiry into that?

"They'll have to get the Army Council to do it themselves. There is no-one else left to trust.

"No wonder the Stormont spy ring was busted wide open. No wonder John Reid knew what was going on so early on.

"Scappaticci has been giving everything to the Brits for years."

CAPTION(S):

PERRY'S BOYFRIEND: Gregory Burns; FLASHBACK: The People has been gagged for its groundbreaking investigations of Stakeknife; ARMY AGENT: Victim Aidan Starrs; BEATEN AND TORTURED: John Dignam; MURDERED: Margaret Perry knew too much
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 11, 2003
Words:1133
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