Sunday Life

Stakeknifed in the back!

By Chris Anderson
20 February 2005

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FORMER British intelligence officers have offered to meet the parents of a republican who was brutally murdered by the IRA's notorious 'nutting squad'.

The dramatic offer came as the parents of Johnny Dignam called for a public inquiry into claims their son was sacrificed by Army agents to protect their top IRA spy, Freddie 'Strakeknife' Scappaticci.

Pat and Irene Dignam, from Portadown, told Sunday Life they wanted Scappaticci and his Army spy masters to be summoned to give evidence.

"It's hard to differentiate between the lies and the truth," said Irene, holding a photograph of her son on her lap.

"But all we want is the truth, and we will not let this matter rest until we get the truth.

"As a family, we can't be hurt anymore."

Johnny Dignam, a 32-year-old married man, was abducted by the IRA's ruthless internal security unit, along with fellow Provos Gregory Burns (33) and Aidan Starrs (29) in June 1992.

The trio were interrogated for a week before being shot. Their naked and hooded bodies were found on July 1, in a remote field along the south Armagh border. The IRA admitted the killings, claiming all three were working for the British security services, and that they had killed Portadown woman Margaret Perry.

The Provos later released an audio tape, purportedly of the men's confessions.

Ironically, it later emerged that British Intelligence had infiltrated the 'nutting squad' that killed the trio.

West Belfast-based Scappaticci was working for the Army's Force Research Unit, which also ran loyalist agent Brian Nelson.

The 'nutting squad's' top man, John Joe Magee, is also now suspected of having worked for British Intelligence.

Thirteen years on, the Dignams believe that only a public inquiry can get to the truth.

In the immediate aftermath of the murders, the Garvaghy Road couple asked to meet with the IRA, to try to find out exactly why their son was killed.

"They tried to put conditions on any possible meeting," said Pat.

"They said they wanted to meet with me alone, but I was advised not to agree to that. So that was it."

Irene also has serious doubts about the authenticity of the IRA tape.

The family received the recording on April Fools Day, in 1993.

"I don't believe it's his voice," said Irene.

"There's just something about it. I'm not sure what, but I don't believe that it is my son."

Two years ago, she called for a face-to-face meeting with Freddie Scappaticci - after he was unmasked as Stakeknife - to ask him if he had shot her son.

Scappaticci was quoted as saying he wanted to meet relatives of the people he was alleged to have killed, to say he didn't do it.

But the Provo executioner later quit Northern Ireland, after it was revealed he had secretly met TV journalists to talk about Martin McGuinness's role inside the IRA.

As the Dignams spoke to Sunday Life, it emerged that a number of ex-intelligence handlers and agents had offered to meet the family.

The couple are delighted by the offer, and say they hope something positive will come out of the meetings.

Questions need to be answered: Family

DID British Intelligence recruit Johnny Dignam - and then allow him to be abducted, tortured and killed by an IRA team led by another Army agent?

It is a thought that haunts Irene and Pat Dignam. The couple were first alarmed by a newspaper report in February 2003, based on interviews with ex-Army intelligence officers, alleging that her son and his fellow victims, Aidan Starrs and Gregory Burns, had been recruited by the shadowy Force Research Unit.

It claimed the three had dealt devastating blows to the Provos in north Armagh, but feared their cover had been blown, and had asked their handlers to pull them out. However, a senior FRU officer allegedly refused, and all three were later snatched by the IRA's 'nutting squad', which included Freddie Scappaticci, aka 'Stakeknife'.

The Dignams say if the claims are true, the intelligence services had a responsibility to protect all three men.

"I need to know if these allegations are true. If they are, then Johnny's death could and should have been prevented," said Irene.

"I want the truth. I want to know if the authorities abandoned my son, and let him be killed, in order to protect other individuals."

Pat added: "We won't let this drop. I don't care how long it takes, we will fight on until we find out what really happened."

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