A MAN widely named as the British Army’s notorious IRA agent “Stakeknife” has been arrested by detectives investigating historic murders connected with the Troubles, it has been revealed.

A team of independent detectives probing claims of murder, kidnap and torture detained a 72-year-old at an undisclosed location yesterday, a statement from Operation Kenova said.

Bedfordshire Police Chief Constable Jon Boutcher is investigating crimes allegedly committed by the high-ranking Army mole, who reputedly led the republican organisation’s “nutting squad”, an internal security unit which brutally interrogated and murdered suspected spies in the conflict.

Analysis: Stakeknife affair is as corrosive as Iraq WMD tale

Dozens of detectives are probing more than 50 murders. In 2003 Stakeknife was widely named as west Belfast man Anthony Scappaticci, but he has always strongly denied the allegation.

A statement from the police investigation said: “Officers from Operation Kenova have arrested a 72-year-old man in connection with the investigation into allegations of murder, kidnap and torture.”

Mr Scappaticci is alleged to have been the most high-ranking British agent within the Provisional IRA, who was given the codename Stakeknife.

He was the grandson of an Italian immigrant who came to Northern Ireland in search of work. He left the province when identified by the media as Stakeknife in 2003 Mr Scappaticci has admitted, in the past, to being a republican but denies that he was an IRA informer.

The informant’s identity is believed to have been known to a handful of Irish journalists for several years. However, the first person to publicly name Scappaticci as Stakeknife was a disaffected former army agent, known by the pseudonym Kevin Fulton.

Analysis: Stakeknife affair is as corrosive as Iraq WMD tale

The former British soldier from south Armagh, who infiltrated the IRA for the intelligence services, had reportedly fallen on hard times and threatened to unmask Stakeknife if the MoD didn’t give him an Army pension and resettlement package.

After Mr Scappaticci was named – with the Sunday Herald breaking the news on the mainland UK after Irish papers published the claim – the former builder appeared briefly at a press conference at his solicitor’s offices to deny the allegations and then vanished, most likely into a witness protection scheme in Britain.

He is said to have appeared briefly at his 98-year-old father’s funeral in west Belfast last year. People who said they saw him described him as looking fit and relaxed.

The independent team of detectives began investigating after the former director of public prosecutions in Northern Ireland, Barra McGrory QC, referred multiple allegations to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

The PSNI decided to call in external help from officers outside Northern Ireland.

The investigation update added: “Operation Kenova is a complex and wide-ranging investigation launched in June 2016 to investigate allegations of murder, kidnap and torture dating back to the 1970s.

Analysis: Stakeknife affair is as corrosive as Iraq WMD tale

So far the team has engaged with more than 40 families and processed more than 500,000 pages of information and 1,500 lines of inquiry pursued.”

Almost 50 detectives have been working on claims of murders, attempted murders and unlawful imprisonment.