PPS issues decisions on final Operation Kenova files

Publication date:

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has today taken decisions not to prosecute 12 individuals reported by Operation Kenova in relation to its investigation into an alleged agent known as Stakeknife. 

After consideration of a large volume of material and information submitted to the PPS on six files, it has been concluded that there is insufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction for any individual reported in relation to five incidents which happened between 1987 and 1994. 

This final phase of Operation Kenova decisions involved seven civilians alleged to have been members of the Provisional IRA and five retired soldiers who worked within the Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU). Of the five former soldiers reported, three were agent handlers and two held more senior positions of Operations Officer and Commanding Officer. The decisions not to prosecute were taken in relation to:

  • The 1987 abduction of one victim who was released;
  • The abduction and murder of one victim in 1988;
  • The abduction and murder of one victim in 1989;
  •  The 1989 abduction of one victim who was released; and
  • The murder and abduction of one victim in 1994. 

As before, and in recognition of the significant public interest in these matters, the PPS has published a detailed statement setting out the background to each of the five incidents and reasons for the decisions that have been taken. 

Again, the cases referenced have been anonymised by the PPS to minimise the potential re-traumatisation for victims and families involved. 

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Michael Agnew, who has had oversight of all PPS work on Operation Kenova, said: “As with all previous phases of Operation Kenova work, decisions relating to these five incidents were considered impartially and wholly independently by an experienced team of senior prosecutors, who were assisted by independent counsel. 

“The challenges encountered in this last phase of decisions, as before, included an absence of important source materials and legal difficulties in attempting to rely upon intelligence records as evidence that could be admitted in criminal proceedings. Having carefully considered the extent of the admissible evidence, it was concluded that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction in respect of any of the 12 individuals reported. 

“In addition to the detailed public statement explaining the decisions taken in each of the cases, all victims and families connected to these five incidents have received an individual written explanation, along with an offer to meet in future to answer any questions they may have.” 

Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron said that the PPS has now taken decisions in all 28 files submitted by Operation Kenova in relation to this investigation.

Mr Herron said: “I recognise the deep disappointment many victims and families will have at the decisions not to prosecute, and their continuing desire for information and accountability.

“In requesting the criminal investigation into Stakeknife and the conduct of those involved in running him as an agent, my predecessor Barra McGrory KC indicated that he did not take this step lightly but was concerned that serious offences may have been committed.

“It is right, therefore, that a rigorous and thorough examination was undertaken by the Operation Kenova team. It was only after all relevant material had been gathered, analysed and understood that the prospects of conviction could be determined. Each decision was carefully considered on an individual basis, as we have sought to demonstrate through the public explanations we have issued at each phase of decision-making. However, the value of the investigation should not be measured solely in terms of any prosecution decision outcome.”

Mr Herron highlighted the victim-centred focus of Operation Kenova. He added: “Operation Kenova sought to address communication with families in a more considerate and inclusive way and this has been widely welcomed. There is much about how they have approached their work that will serve as a model for any future legacy investigations. The victims and families have waited a number of years for the conclusion of these decisions. I regret that the PPS was not in a position to complete this work more quickly. This was in part due to the volume and complexity of the files, but also a result of the limited prosecutorial resources available to PPS for legacy work.

“I am mindful that an interim Operation Kenova report is to be published by the PSNI next week and is to be followed by individual reports to families who suffered a bereavement. I hope that these reports will demonstrate the wider value of Operation Kenova investigations in providing answers to families and also setting out a fuller context and narrative on what are no doubt very challenging and significant issues of understandable public interest.”


Notes to Editors:

  1. detailed public statement on the decisions can be read by clicking the link. 
  2. The total number of files received by the PPS in relation to this specific Operation Kenova investigation is 28.
  3. This includes one file containing four individuals in which decisions issued in October 2020. Please see the statement on the PPS website.
  4. The PPS subsequently issued a formal ‘no decision’ outcome in relation to ten of the files as they contained just one suspect who died in 2023. The PPS position after the death of this suspect is available on the PPS website.
  5. In December 2023, the PPS issued decisions on a further five files received. Please see a statement relating to these decisions on the PPS website.
  6. On 6 February 2024, the PPS issued decisions on a further six files. Please see a statement relating to these decisions on the PPS website.
  7. PPS decisions are taken in accordance with the Test for Prosecution, which involves two stages. The Test for Prosecution is met if, in relation to an identifiable suspect, the available evidence is sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of a conviction (the Evidential Test) and if prosecution is in the public interest (the Public Interest Test). Further detail is contained in the Code for Prosecutors.
  8. Section 35(5) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 gives the DPP the power to refer a matter to the police for investigation on the grounds that it may involve an offence committed against the law of Northern Ireland. 
  9. Further information on the establishment and work of Operation Kenova can be found on its website. The PSNI is due to publish the Operation Kenova interim report on 8th March 2024.
  10. Media queries for the PPS should be referred to the Communications Unit by emailing ppspressoffice@ppsni.gov.uk inside office hours. The out of hours press officer can be contacted on 07920 271804 or 07795 480234.