THERE was a glimmer of hope at the weekend that justice may have a chance of prevailing when it comes to the Dirty War in Northern Ireland.

I wrote a front-page investigation for the Herald on Sunday detailing plans for the high-ranking Scottish soldier Brigadier Gordon Kerr to be questioned under caution by detectives working for Operation Kenova, investigating collusion, murder, torture and kidnap during the Troubles.

Kerr ran the Force Research Unit (FRU), the wing of British military intelligence which handled double agents inside the IRA and loyalist paramilitary gangs. The most infamous FRU agent was Stakeknife, the British army’s highest-placed mole inside the IRA. I named Freddie Scappaticci as Stakeknife back in 2003. Three years earlier, I named Kerr, who is from Aberdeen, as the head of the FRU. Kenova detectives are investigating the role of Stakeknife, and arrested Scappaticci last year, later releasing him on bail. Scappaticci denies he is Stakeknife.

The simple truth about the Dirty War in Ulster is that double agents working for the British security forces were allowed to continue operating as terrorists, in order to keep their cover. That meant IRA or UVF volunteers carried out acts of terror, including murder, with the knowledge of their “handlers” – military intelligence officers running them as informers. Agents were also sometimes used as proxies – with handlers passing them material and intelligence which aided them in setting up assassinations seen as useful to British interests. As a result British security forces colluded with terrorists in murder – that is the bottom line allegation at the centre of all Dirty War investigations. Dozens of murders are thought to be connected, many involving innocent civilians not linked to terrorism.

It has long troubled me that information of such import does not dominate the news agenda, nor is it the subject of great debate in parliament or a matter of overt public disgust and anger. To me, the Dirty War is a greater outrage to decency, democracy and the rule of law than even atrocities such as Bloody Sunday, or shameful, disgraceful episodes such as the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The Dirty War was a slow, deliberate calculated policy which saw soldiers collude with terrorists in the deaths of British citizens – and it all had political oversight, that’s the most terrible fact.

It’s hard to believe that various Northern Ireland secretaries, Defence Secretaries and Prime Ministers were unaware of what was going on. Handlers were taking orders from their commanding officers, and those officers were reporting back to London. Numerous military intelligence sources have told me in the past that they were sure details on agents such as Stakeknife made it all the way to Number 10.

That’s why yesterday’s story about Kerr being questioned by the Kenova team is so important. Without him being spoken to, there can be no truth. Only Kerr can explain the political involvement. If it is shocking to contemplate soldiers and terrorists colluding in murder, think what it means if politicians knew of such operations or even authorised them.

Read more: Officer to be quizzed over Stakeknife

The Dirty War, to me, has always eaten into the very heart of British democracy, and it remains a toxin in the bloodstream of the body politic, every bit as virulent as the lies and manipulations used to take us to war in Iraq.

However, most of the revelations about the Dirty War started to appear after the peace process in Northern Ireland took hold. Such information was an uncomfortable truth which few wished to discuss at a time when hope beckoned. It was easier to look away. There was also “Northern Ireland fatigue”: people just wanted to forget 30 years of violence and embrace what the Good Friday Agreement offered, a chance at normality. Then September 11 came. The world changed and the Dirty War moved to the sidelines of history. The activities of soldiers in Belfast in the 1980s and 1990s seemed distant when compared to Islamist terror and what troops were up to in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Dogged reporting, however, eventually led to the establishment of Operation Kenova, run by the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, Jon Boutcher. The Kenova team seems determined to bring justice and truth to the fore – and the planned interview with Kerr is to be welcomed as a huge step forward. Previous Ulster collusion inquiries, such as ones led by Sir John Stevens, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, were hampered and obstructed. It’s even believed the offices of the Stevens inquiry were torched by a team connected to the FRU.

However, there is every chance that Kerr will refuse to co-operate. He has no reason or obligation to answer any questions under caution. Many fear that Kenova will be eventually wound down with no progress made. Former MI5 agent Willie Carlin, who infiltrated the republican movement, told me: “We’ve heard things like ‘Soldier F will be charged over Bloody Sunday’, and that is all very well, but the Dirty War is a can of worms which no-one wants opened.”

Certainly, a court case centred on the Dirty War could reveal details that are potentially fatal to how we see our democracy. The Republican movement would welcome any exposure just as little as the British Army. If the IRA ever admitted that agents like Stakeknife existed, they would be admitting that the organisation was penetrated to the hilt by Britain, and basically a plaything of military intelligence. And that, after all, was the intention of the FRU – to control its enemy, in this case the IRA, in order to beat its enemy.

Stakeknife’s handler once told me many years ago that they viewed the spy game in Ulster as a game of chess. “It’s like the IRA and the UVF are playing, and we walk into the room, turn off the lights and move all their pieces to the endgame we want: ceasefire.”

We’re now at a crossroads: progress seems made in terms of police preparing to interview Kerr, but whether anything comes from that interview, we must wait and see. However, this much is true: there can be no justice for victims’ families, and no trust in the way British democracy operates unless the truth is eventually brought to light about what military intelligence was doing in Northern Ireland during the Dirty War.