Brandon Sullivan with the first of a two part review of the latest work from the fingertips of Richard O'Rawe.
The author came to my attention recently as I had a copy of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers military logs from 1972. A Richard O’Rawe was lifted in Valentine’s Day, 1972. The log contained a note – “lifted by Ball”. I am certain that Ball was Julian Ball, the soldier who attempted to kill the Conway brothers, and a member, variously, of the MRF and SAS (see here for more of Ball’s astonishing story).
I enjoyed O’Rawe’s books on the hunger strike, and about Gerry Conlon, and so I was pleased when my copy of Stakeknife’s Dirty War arrived a day early last week.
I read it in two sittings. I wasn’t disappointed. I blitzed through the book in two sessions and will re-read for this review.
Near the end of the book, the author mentions that he “accepted a commission to write it”. This interested me. Did Merrion Press spot a gap in the market for a book about “Stakeknife” as Operation Kenova approaches its report publication date? If so, they’re as savvy as they are skilled at putting out quality ‘Troubles’ books.
I’ve heard that, expecting a D-Notice, the publishers did an initial run of 15,000 books, the rationale being that UKG would buy them up if it contained anything they desperately wanted hidden from public view. I would expect that run to sell out fairly soon.
Chapter 1 – 6
The book is replete with fascinating detail. O’Rawe starts off with a brief portrait of the Italy that the Scappaticci family emigrated from. The Scappaticci family were hardworking and became successful in their working class communities, always seeming to “have money” – a trait their third child Freddie (born 12th January 1946) would apparently emulate. As we see later in the book, Freddie Scappaticci (whom I will hereafter refer to as Scap) was rarely short of money. Scap was a short man, and carried some extra weight; extra weight that was an issue when he went to England for a trial with Nottingham Forest.
He also had violent tendences. O’Rawe recounts the 18-year-old Scap being fined £10 for participating, with a friend, in a fight with “a sectarian flavour” with two Shankill men: Samuel Bell and Alan Morton. A man named Alan Morton was convicted of rioting, having attacked the army, in 1970. Numerous sources cite Scap as repeatedly assaulting his wife, Sheila Cunningham, “regularly beating the crap out of her”. Many sources also compliment his wife’s personality.
Scap started off his IRA career as a “model volunteer”, and one with a sense of republican integrity so complete that he refused a chance at early release (he was interned for many years) by giving a written undertaking to a British army officer to renounce his former ways.
Reported to have become OC of the Markets Provisional IRA in 1970, he participated in bomb attacks on Belfast city centre, and “he never asked a volunteer to do something he wouldn’t’ do himself … he had balls to burn”. Scap would also make a point of meeting up with an on-the-run IRA volunteer from his area (TPQ’s Anthony McIntyre) to give him £5 spending money (£56 in today’s money) a week.
Eamon Collins thought that Scap “did not abuse his power excessively”. This was not a view shared by many of his neighbours in the early 1970s, who noted that he “was a fucking bully … he had the place terrorised”. There are many stories of him using his position as a “top ‘RA man” to intimidate those around him. These stories continue throughout the book. O’Rawe writes “it is clear from these accounts that Scappaticci was given to violence long before the Troubles”.
The second chapter of the book contains what I consider to be a jarring error. It depicts a scene in early 1971 when Scap confronted, and faced down, hardened IRA men with a machine gun because, Scap had heard, those IRA men were considering kneecapping his son who had driven a stolen car into a garden wall. Scap would have been 25 years old, and had married five years before the incident described. He could not have had a son old enough to be driving a car. O’Rawe does not tell the story first-hand, but in publishing it, opens it up to scrutiny, particularly without caveat. I hope it is amended or deleted in future editions. Nevertheless, the reader is left in no doubt about Scap’s presence and capacity for intimidation.
Republicans had advance warning of internment – Operation Demetrius – coming into force, and as Markets OC, Scap ordered his volunteers not to stay at home. He did not follow his own advice, and was duly lifted, beaten, and found himself, as a rebel song goes, “imprisoned without crime and without trial”. A fellow internee described him as “a nasty wee fucker” and in jail, as on the outside, he gained some sort of leadership position. He remained in Long Kesh until January 1974 when he was released, and reported immediately to the IRA for service. Still a committed and dedicated republican paramilitary.
I was surprised to learn that Scap had been, briefly, OC of the Belfast Brigade, his short tenure marked by massive bombs in Belfast city centre. But he was recaptured again, and interned, on 16th August 1974. As O’Rawe, a diligent and impressive researcher, noted, it made the front page of the Belfast Telegraph:
Scap, along with all other internees, was released on 5th December 1975. He had spent close to four and a half year in Long Kesh. This time, he did not report immediately back for IRA service.
He did however, set about making money, legally and illegally. His industrious and scheming nature seeing him derive a substantial income from a complex VAT fraud, alongside his wages as a builder, and income as a contractor. His work ethic, alongside his bullying and violent nature, were constants in descriptions of Scap. O’Rawe writes that Scap was Belfast Brigade Intelligence Officer by the end of 1976, and that the Internal Security Unit (ISU) was introduced as part of the restructuring of the IRA devised within Long Kesh in 1978. As is generally known, and written about by Eamon Collins in his 1997 book Killing Rage, Scap was the second-in-command of the ISU, with John Joe Magee as its OC.
Another character trait of Scap’s was his predilection for pornography – he would infamously be convicted of possession of “extreme pornography” including images of bestiality. The book relates that he had “cupboards” of pornography at his home. A journalist friend told me how Scap would watch “blue movies” with his father. There are also convincing accounts of Scap having a sexual interest in minors, and whilst there are other theories about how Scap was turned, this one seems to me to be the most plausible.
I’ll review the rest of the book next week.
Richard O'Rawe, 2023, Stakeknife's Dirty War: The Inside Story of Scappaticci, the IRA's Nutting Squad and the British Spooks Who Ran the War. Merrion Press. ISBN-13: 978-1785374470
⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys.