The Murder of Seamus Ludlow in County Louth, May 1976. Towards a public inquiry?




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Daily Ireland, 6 September 2005:

Suspects known by Garda HQ

Louise Hogan
  Gardaí failed to act after being informed that four named loyalists were suspected of murdering north Louth man Séamus Ludlow in 1976, a fresh inquest heard yesterday.
Retired garda John Courtney said officers from the Royal Ulster Constabulary had given him the names and addresses of the four suspects in February 1979 during a trip to the North of Ireland.
No one has ever been charged with the murder of Mr Ludlow, who was shot dead after he left a pub in Dundalk to walk the four miles (6.4 kilometres) to his home.
After passing information on the murder suspects to his superintendent to be forwarded to Garda headquarters, Mr Courtney said no further investigation of the men had been taken.
Mr Courtney was a detective inspector at the time of Mr Ludlow’s death in May 1976. The garda said he had been given the information about the shooting in Dundalk while on a trip to the North.
“The detective sergeant and detective constable said they might be able to help me with the murder. They gave me details on how it happened and the names of the persons involved,” he said.
Mr Courtney said the names of the suspects matched with information being gathered in Dundalk.
Mr Ludlow was last spotted alive by jockey Cecil Mahon. Mr Ludlow was walking over the Newry Road bridge on the outskirts of Dundalk as he made his way home from a pub at around midnight on May 1, 1976.
At 3pm the following day, Mr Ludlow’s fully clothed body was discovered dumped over a ditch down a lane at Culfore in Mountpleasant, not far from his home at Thistlecross.
Mr Courtney said he had been given a few details about Mr Ludlow’s death, including that he was walking along the Newry Road from Dundalk when he was picked up by the men in a car.
The retired garda said he was annoyed that no directions to question the men were ever given by the section at Garda headquarters in charge of subversive-related crime.
Mr Courtney said: “I was anxious to interview these people as they were strong suspects but I couldn’t do it as I didn’t get the authority to do it.”
“We would never be satisfied until we interviewed them.
“From descriptions given to me, it would appear they were the people involved.”
Cross-examining Mr Courtney, the family’s barrister said Mr Ludlow’s relations had suffered for almost 20 years from rumours that the IRA had killed him.
Mr Courtney described the Garda investigation as thorough and said: “We eliminated the IRA from investigations during the early course of investigation.”
Louth county coroner Ronan Maguire said the inquest was reopening yesterday 29 years after Mr Ludlow’s death on the directions of Attorney General Rory Brady.
He said a fresh inquiry had been directed on several counts, including the fact that no family members were present or informed of the first inquest in 1976.
After the first day of the new inquest, a nephew of Mr Ludlow, Jimmy Sharkey, described it as a first step in the family’s fight for justice.
However, he said: “A public inquiry is needed regardless of the outcome here. It is what the family wants and, after 30 years, it is required.”
John Harbison, the former state pathologist, told the court it was quite possible that Mr Ludlow had been shot in the back of a car before being dumped over the ditch.
“His shoes looked remarkably clean in view of the muddy nature of the lane in which the body was found,” he said.
The inquest heard Mr Ludlow had died from shock and haemorrhaging after receiving bullet wounds to the heart, right lung and liver.
Professor Harbison, who visited the scene in 1976, said the body had been discovered lying on top of a bank.
He said it would have taken several people to lift the body.
Due to the amount of black powder residue from the gun on Mr Ludlow’s hand, Professor Harbison said one of the three shots must have been discharged from only 15 centimetres away.
On the wound to Mr Ludlow’s left hand, Professor Harbison said: “It was almost certainly sustained by the deceased trying to shield the bullet with his left hand.”
The professor said two bullets found in the blood-stained clothing of Mr Ludlow — as well as the bullet lodged in his body — had been given to the Garda ballistic section for examination.
Dr Maguire adjourned the inquest to hear further evidence from four other witnesses.

Daily Ireland, 6 September 2005:

Murder of quiet man

by Andrea McKernon

Seamus Ludlow was a quiet, unassuming bachelor who lived in Co Louth with his elderly and infirm mother, his sister and her children.
He was gunned down on May 2, 1976 near his home in Thistle Cross, Mountpleasant close to the Border by loyalists in collusion with the UDR.
This week, almost 30 years after his murder, a new inquest opened yesterday into his death after relatives said they were not informed of the original hearing in 1976. But they are still campaigning for a full public inquiry.
From his post mortem in 1976 state pathologist John Harbison revealed that the Fine Gael member had a number of bullet wounds to his heart, lungs and liver and the shot that killed him had passed through his left hand, which he had raised to protect himself from his killers.
Why anyone would want to murder the 47-year-old forestry worker whose only recreation was to have a drink in his local bar every week was a mystery to over 2,000 mourners who attended his funeral.
Gardaí questioned 2,000 people, searched almost 2,000 homes and stopped over 1,000 vehicles, but after four weeks the investigation into Mr Ludlow’s murder abruptly stopped. It later emerged the RUC was protecting an informer working for the British security forces.
His devastated family was told unofficially that their loved one had been killed by the IRA as an informer, but the allegations were untrue and the family became divided over the following 20 years.
Family members had even been told by the gardaí that other family members linked to republicans had been involved in their relative’s murder.
However in the mid-1990s Northern journalist John Ellis told the family that he had information the murder was carried out by loyalists and not republicans, confirmed by a retired senior detective who had worked on the case.
The revelations led to Mr Ludlow’s nephews, Michael Donegan and Jimmy Sharkey, launching a campaign into their uncle’s murder.
That led to the reopening of the investigation on both sides of the Border. Four suspects were arrested – three from North Down and another who had originally lived in the area. But the four suspects were later released by the RUC. However a file was prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions in Belfast.
In July 1999, former Tánaiste John Wilson produced his report on behalf of the Victims’ Commission recommending a private inquiry into the case.
“To avoid compromising any criminal prosecution, this inquiry should not publish its report until any prosecution has finished, unless no prosecution has been initiated before the completion of the inquiry or within 12 months, whichever is the later.”
Despite protests by family members on the limitations of such a probe, their hands were tied while the four men’s case remained on the DPP’s files in Belfast.
But on October 20, 1999 the DPP announced there would be no prosecutions, removing the logic behind the Irish government’s private inquiry whose report would not come into the public domain. That started a six year-long campaign for a public inquiry.
At present the Ludlow family’s campaign is waiting on two important developments in Dublin: the publication of a private Barron Inquiry report and the opening of a fresh inquest. The Barron Report, completed after a private inquiry into the murder by Mr Justice Henry Barron, was passed to the Irish government in October 2004. No date for its publication is available. The fresh inquest, delayed since it was ordered by the Irish attorney general in July 2002, opened yesterday.


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