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How husband and wife were 'nutted'

(Greg Harkin, The People)

The People can today (Sunday) lift the lid on the murky world of Freddie Scappaticci's nutting squad - and how they pulled the trigger on a woman and her husband who were informers sacrificed by the security forces. And the sickening twist is that another informer saved in the incident was also later sacrificed.

The bloody murders of Catherine and Gerard Mahon in September 1985 shocked a country grown used to such killings because a woman had been shot. The IRA's first ever killing of a female informer was condemned on all sides.

It is claimed, by both republicans and security sources, that suspicion fell upon the couple when a number of Provisional operations were compromised.

Freddie Scappaticci and his nutting squad were called in to investigate. Estate agent Joe Fenton, who supplied safe houses for IRA meetings - but who was also working for the security forces - directed Scappaticci towards the Mahons.

There is no suggestion that either man knew the other was an agent for the State at that stage.

Both Gerard and Catherine Mahon confessed to working for the RUC. They received payments of between £20 and £200 for tip-offs about republican activity. Payments increased for weapons finds or arrests.

Their flat in Twinbrook was fitted with elaborate bugging devices to monitor the premises each time it was used by IRA active service units. Acting on Fenton's information, Scappaticci and three other members of his unit took the Mahons to Norglen Crescent in Turf Lodge to be executed. What happened next is known only to the IRA security unit members who were present.

According to some sources both Mahons confessed, but the IRA had planned to kill only Gerard Mahon. It is claimed Catherine Mahon was shot in the back as she tried to escape. Mahon, a mechanic, was 28. His wife was just 27.

A man who found their bodies said at the time: "We heard two bursts of gunfire and then a car was driven away at high speed.

"We went out and discovered the girl. We thought she was dead. We tried first aid but the side of her head was blown away.

"A young lad came up to us saying there was a man lying in the entry a bit further up and still alive.

"We got to him and he was badly wounded. He was struggling to breath and choking on his own blood.

"He had been hit in the side of the head and the face.

"Whatever is behind it all, it's ridiculous. Those responsible are animals. Nothing justifies murder.

"They had both been tied by their wrists - but they must have broken free by struggling when they realised what was going to happen."

The SDLP's Dr Joe Hendron remarked: "This slaughter has few equals in barbarity and it proves the Provo idea of justice is warped. It makes us all sick."

This week a former Special Branch officer told The People: "The Mahons were low-level informants, sure, but what is alarming is that the army were allowing one of their agents - in this case Stakeknife - to be involved in the killing of agents of the police.

"It is sickening. How many more of our people died as a result of him? How many officers died as a result?"

Whatever the truth of the Mahons' confession in the hands of Scappaticci, at least two security force agents had now had a hand in killing off two other agents.

Informer Joe Fenton had set up the Mahons - and Freddie Scappaticci was there when the trigger was pulled. It wasn't, however, the last dealing between Fenton and Scappaticci. For Fenton, who started working for RUC Special Branch in 1982, was executed by the IRA in February 1989. Again, Scappaticci was the nutting squad boss brought in to carry out the interrogation. Fenton, who had provided safe houses for IRA meetings, confessed to his role as a police informer after just one session with Scap.

His confession was taped and later played to a member of the Fenton family. In one stroke, army agent Scap had taken out one of Special Branch's most prized possessions in west Belfast. Joe Fenton was shot once through the head and his body was dumped in an alleyway in Bunbeg Park in Lenadoon.

At the 1991 trial of a couple charged in connection with Mr Fenton's death, his father recalled how he was played a tape recording at Sinn Féin offices of his son's last plea for mercy before being shot. Patrick Fenton said his son had told how Special Branch had pressurised him into working for them.

"The last part of the tape was that Joseph asked for mercy to be given and be allowed to go home to his wife and kids but this was not done, as you know, Joseph was shot," Mr Fenton told Belfast Crown Court.

The man who had recorded the confession was Freddie Scappaticci. He had done so at an address in west Belfast - the same address used by Scap to interrogate informer Sandy Lynch a year later.

That was the operation set up by Scap to trap Sinn Féin's Danny Morrison. Freddie Scappaticci's fingerprints were found at the scene of the Lynch kidnap.

He was later questioned about the incident - but released without charge.

May 20, 2003

This article appeared first in The People on May 18, 2003.