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




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The Inquest

The long-awaited fresh inquest into the sectarian murder of Seamus Ludlow finally got underway in Dundalk on 5 September 2005: three years after it had been first announced by the Irish government. Delay followed delay as the authorities refused to hand over documents requested by the Ludlow family and the coroner.

As the inquest neared the gardai continued to appear obstructive in delaying the handing over of vital files requested by the Louth coroner Ronan Maguire. 

The files, particularly the gardai's internal Murphy files from 1998, were only produced to the coroner  when he threatened to report this obstruction to the Attorney General.  The Murphy file, which was compiled by retired Chief Superintendent Ted Murphy, results from a fresh reinvestigation of the original murder investigation of 1976 and the reasons for garda inaction following the RUC's handing over of vital information in 1979 that identified four prime loyalist suspects for the murder of Seamus Ludlow.

The handing over of this Murphy file was welcomed by the Ludlow family. But, still, there were conditions attached: the files were marked confidential and were not to be seen by the Ludlow family or their lawyers. It was agreed that the coroner could produce sections of the files as written submissions to the inquest.

The fresh inquest began as planned on the morning of 5 September 2005 and was concluded on the evening of the 6 September 2005. The inquest attracted considerable interest from press and broadcast media.

Disappointingly, the Murphy files, dating from 1998, remained hidden from the inquest and important information long demanded by the Ludlow family remains out of sight. The shroud of secrecy and cover-up still remains hanging over  the Ludlow family's search for truth.

A jury of 6 men and four women at Dundalk courthouse unanimously returned a verdict that Seamus Ludlow's death was an Unlawful Killing, caused by gunshot wounds, with the medical cause of death being shock and haemorrhage.

A number of important points also emerged from the inquest:

Retired Dt Supt. John Courtney, who received a file naming four loyalist suspects, from the RUC in February 1979, stated that he was made aware of the four strong suspects in 1979 but was not given permission from Garda headquarters to pursue the investigation further. This was the first public admission from any garda source that the murder investigation had been blocked by the Garda authorities in Dublin.

The same four loyalist suspects were questioned in 1998 and two of the men gave similar accounts of their involvement in the crime. Again, this was a first public admission.

No Garda officer was recorded as being given responsibility for contacting the Ludlow family for the first inquest in August 1976. No Ludlow family member was notified in time and the inquest proceeded in their absence. The Ludlow family had to read about this rushed inquest in the local press like everyone else. It became evident that no ballistics or forensics reports had been produced.

Seamus Ludlow was not murdered by the IRA nor was he a member of the IRA. The suspicion of IRA involvement had been eliminated from the murder investigation within three months of the murder, though the Ludlow family were never informed. Indeed, family members were still being told this lie nearly twenty years later!

No trace of the victim's clothing or of two of the fatal bullets can be found. The Ludlow family still demand answers to their questions regarding the misplacing of this vital evidence in a criminal case!

See The Dundalk Democrat, 7 September 2005, for a detailed report of the inquest. For further reports see links at the bottom of this page.

The above revelations, confirmed what the Ludlow family has been saying publicly for many years - and only the first public confirmation from Garda sources. The continuing secrecy regarding the Murphy files and the misplacing of vital evidence reinforces the Ludlow family's determination to demand a full public inquiry. 

Nothing else will uncover the truth behind the lies and the questions that remain unanswered, nothing else will expose those who cruelly manipulated the original garda murder investigation to protect the murderers and denied justice to the grieving family of Seamus Ludlow.

Here is how The Belfast Telegraph newspaper reported revelations of the first day of the inquest:

A retired detective inspector who ran the investigation of Seamus Ludlow's May 1976 murder, John Courtney, told the victim's second inquest in Dundalk yesterday that police linked with the counter-subversive unit of the Garda had told him "nothing" was being done about crucial evidence linking the UDA to the killing. . . .

Retired Garda Superintendent John Courtney who gave evidence at Seamus Ludlow's inquest.The jury at an inquest in Dundalk before Louth County Coroner Ronan Maguire heard Mr Courtney recount how he passed on information received from the RUC which linked the killing to a number of alleged UDA figures - only to find out that nothing was being done about it.

"18 months afterwards (February 1979) I got certain information about the persons involved in the shooting. I was in Belfast one day in connection with another investigation," he said.

"They (RUC detectives) gave me details about what had happened and they gave me the names of the persons involved. From the facts they gave me I was happy enough that these persons were involved and that they would be suspects for the murder.

"I sent the information up to headquarters. I made inquiries and I was told there was nothing being done about it - that was that."

He added that the matter would have been dealt with by police chiefs who handled countersubversive activity.

"The Chief Superintendent in Drogheda would have sent it up to the C3 (subversive section of Special Branch at Garda headquarters)."

Senior counsel for the defence, Deirdre Murphy, asked: "You were satisfied within 18 months that it was people from the UDA who had killed Mr Ludlow?"

He replied: "Yes. My view would be that I had to interview those people. The Garda would never be happy until they interviewed those people but from the descriptions given to me it would appear that they were the people involved. They would be very strong suspects in my mind."

Ms Murphy told the court that for 20 years the IRA had been linked to the murder in the public mind and accused Garda of creating a false impression

When it put to him that for 20 years the impression was created that Seamus had been murdered by the IRA Mr Courtney said: "We eliminated the IRA after two or three months", but added that this would not have been written on a case file.

Of Gardai telling the family of an IRA involvement he said: "Nobody told me and I wouldn't have tolerated it. No Gardai came to me to say there was IRA involvement."

Representing the Ludlow family Ms Deirdre Murphy asked: "You sent it through proper channels to the top of the chain?", to which he replied: "Nothing came back."

John Harbison, the former state pathologist, told the court it was quite possible that the late Seamus Ludlow had been shot in the back of a car before being dumped over the ditch. 

The following brief account of Professor Harbison's evidence is based upon a report in Daily Ireland, 6 September 2005.

Photograph of Professor John Harbison, retired State Pathologist, who gave detailed evidence on the first day of the Seamus Ludlow inquest. Professor Harbison also gave evidence at the original inquest in August 1976. (Photograph from The Dundalk Democrat)“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 that Seamus 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 the murdered Seamus Ludlow’s hand, Professor Harbison said one of the three shots must have been discharged from only 15 centimetres away.

On the wound to Seamus 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.

Also on 6 September, the inquest was, appropriately, the subject of the following comment in an editorial in Daily Ireland:

Sensational claims yesterday, on the first day of the new inquest into the 1976 murder of Louth man Séamus Ludlow, that gardaí were told the identities of his loyalist killers but failed to act will add weight to demands that the state forces – North and South – come clean.

Government ministers who preach so loudly about adherence to the rule of law and who lecture others about reconciliation cannot ignore their own obligations.

Victims of state violence and their families are demanding answers. They deserve to receive them.

State forces murdered, colluded and covered up their criminal actions. It is well past the time for them to give up their dirty secrets.

After the first day of the new inquest, a nephew of Seamus Ludlow, Jimmy Sharkey, speaking to a Daily Ireland reporter, 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.”

The inquest resumed the next day with evidence given by the retired Chief Superintendent Ted Murphy. Mr Murphy, had led a fresh investigation of the Seamus Ludlow murder, and the original blocked murder investigation, during the 1990s. In evidence, Mr Murphy confirmed much of what Mr Courtney had said the previous day, including the fact that a file had been received from the RUC in 1979, naming four prime suspects for Seamus Ludlow's murder and that nothoing was done about it!

It also emerged that just one of the three bullets recovered by the then State pathologist John Harbison could be found by gardai despite searches of four Garda stations as part of a review of the original murder investigation.

According to the Irish Times report, 7 September 2005: Former Garda chief superintendent Ted Murphy said that in 1996 the then Garda commissioner Patrick Culligan directed him to review the original investigation, partly as a result of a request by the Ludlow family.

The Irish Times continues:

The family had not been at the original inquest in 1976 because they had not been told it was on.

Mr Murphy agreed it was unusual for an inquest to be concluded in a murder case where the Garda investigation was continuing. The original verdict found Mr Ludlow died from shock and haemorrhage.

Mr Murphy confirmed the evidence of former Garda inspector John Courtney, who on Monday told Dundalk Coroner's Court that the RUC gave him the names and addresses of four members of the UDA who were the suspects for the murder in 1979. He passed this information on to the Garda anti-terrorist section in Dublin, but it was never acted on.

Yesterday Mr Murphy said the investigation by Mr Courtney was thorough and he followed procedure.

In 1998, as part of his review of the original investigation, he liaised with the RUC and they arrested two of the four individuals identified to Mr Courtney back in 1979. It was subsequently decided by the DPP in the North not to prosecute anybody despite two suspects making statements of admission of their alleged involvement in the killing.

The jury found Mr Ludlow died near his home on May 2nd, 1976, and that the cause of death was shock and haemorrhage due to gunshot wounds. However it made a written recommendation to be added to the verdict, which coroner Ronan Maguire said could not under law be appended to the verdict.

The Dundalk Democrat looks at Mr Murphy's evidence in greater detail. According to the Democrat his evidence was as follows: 

Mr Murphy told the inquest jury and county Coroner Ronan Maguire that two of the loyalist suspects gave a description of how the shooting took place and where the body was dumped.

It was, he said, fairly factual information on the Ludlow murder and added: "There was no other murder with similar circumstances at the time."

He said that the suspects were questioned in Castlereagh where Gardai were present to assist. The DPP in Northern Ireland did not take the mater any further.

When he was asked if there was any motive for the murder the retired Chief Superintendent said: "It seems extremely unlikely. Four persons came from Northern Ireland to kill. It didn't matter who as far as I can see.

"Seamus Ludlow was a highly regarded man in society. He had no enemies. He was an inoffensive quiet man. There was no motive. It was a random incident."

When asked about the rumours of IRA involvement in the murder, he said his investigations had shown there was a rumour that had circulated locally that the IRA were involved. He had heard this from a number of people he had spoken to.

On the subject of Seamus Ludlow's clothing and the bullets recovered from the body, Mr Murphy said "with the exception of one bullet there were no other exhibits."

He said it as because of this that Garda offices in Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin and Dromad were searched.

"To be sure we were not missing any documentation we searched these offices."

He also stressed that the Ludlow family had assisted him in his work.

"I was very impressed with the level of co-operation given by this the family, three generations I believe.

"They weren't notified of the inquest (in 1976) and there was no documentation to see who was given the task."

Kevin Ludlow, brother of Seamus, was the only member of the Ludlow family to give evidence at the inquest. He was not present at the original inquest because he was not given sufficient prior notice of its date and time. As the Dundalk Democrat report points out, Kevin has waited 29 years to be given a chance to put his own deposition on record. His evidence, reported here in the Dundalk Democrat, is in conflict with further evidence given by retired Garda Sergeant Jim Gannon:

On May 2 1976 he had met then Sergeant Jim Gannon on the Bog Road and when he told him his brother Seamus was missing was brought over to identify a body in a ditch.

He told the inquest that in the years since (he) had met with the now retired Sergeant and said he was repeatedly told that Seamus had been murdered by the IRA.

In 1995 he said he was told by Mr Gannon that a family member had been involved in the killing. "He said he'd pin it on him yet."

When asked had he made the comment to Kevin Ludlow about a family involvement in the murder he said "I would say that is incorrect."

Sgt Gannon said he had not been given the task of contacting Kevin Ludlow.

"The first thing I heard about Seamus Ludlow's inquest was 10am that morning.

"I received a phone call from Frank Murray in Dundalk.

"I got on to Dundalk and arranged for a car to go to the Ludlow house immediately. Kevin was in Newry.

"I wasn't given the task. I never found out who was given the task."

The two-day inquest came to a close with a verdict of "unlawful killing". For more about this see The Argus, 9 September 2005: Unlawful Killing

Reacting to the inquest's verdict, Seamus Ludlows' nephew Jimmy Sharkey said that the family are now eagerly awaiting the publication of the Barron Report and will continue in their campaign for a public inquiry.

"It is now on public record that four names were given to the Gardai in 1979 but no investigation was allowed. Who made that decision? Who stopped the case going further?

"This inquest has moved us on but there is still a lot more to be made public."

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Photographs from Seamus Ludlow's fresh inquest: September 2005:

Members of the Ludlow family, including Mrs Nan Sharkey, a sister of Seamus, standing outside Dundalk Courthouse. Kevin Ludlow, brother of the late Seamus Ludlow, leaves Dundalk Courthouse accompanied by his wife and daughter.

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See also the following media reports of this historic inquest reproduced on this Ludlow family website:

Ulster Television online report, 5 September 2005: Inquest into death of Seamus Ludlow

RTE News online report, 5 September 2005 17:19: Second inquest into Louth murder

Daily Ireland, 6 September 2005: Suspects known by Garda HQ

Daily Ireland, 6 September 2005: Murder of quiet man

Daily Ireland - Editorial, 6 September 2005: State's Dirty Secrets

The Irish Daily Star, 6 September 2005: 'Gardai did not follow up on murder details'

The Irish Sun, 6 September 2005: Murder suspect list 'was ignored'

The Irish Independent, 6 September 2005: Garda chiefs 'sat on murder report'

The Belfast Telegraph, 6 September 2005: Garda 'quashed' probe into UDA link to murder

RTE News online, 6 September 2005 22:08: Unlawful killing verdict at Ludlow inquest

The Irish News, 7 September 2005: 'Gardai evidence strengthens case for public inquiry'

The Irish Daily Star, 7 September 2005: 'UDA' Murder Probe Call

The Dundalk Democrat, 7 September 2005: Seamus Ludlow murder is now officially an unlawful killing

Daily Ireland, 7 September 2005: Call for public inquiry

The Belfast Telegraph, 7 September 2005: Probe call into 1976 murder

The Irish Independent, 7 September 2005: Ludlow family renew plea for murder inquiry

The Irish Times, 7 September 2005: Inquest told of statements admitting part in killing

The Irish Sun, 7 September 2005: 'Loyalist kill was random'

The Irish News, 8 September 2005: O'Loan had concerns over Ludlow probe

The Irish Sun, 8 September 2005: Tell us what you know about Seamus's murder

The Argus (Dundalk), 9 September 2005: Identity of Ludlow's killer known to Gardai

The Argus (Dundalk), 9 September 2005: Unlawful Killing

RTE News online, 9 September 2005: Ahern to raise Ludlow murder with Hain News, 9 September 2005, Ahern To Raise Ludlow Murder With Hain

The Irish Examiner, 10 September 2005: Ahern to raise issue of Ludlow murder

The Irish News, 10 September 2005: Minister to raise 1976 murder with secretary

Daily Ireland, 10 September 2005: Minister to raise murder

The Irish Sunday Mirror, 11 September 2005: Publish or be damned

Daily Ireland, 10 September 2005: Letters to the Editor Garda deficiencies run very deep

The Dundalk Democrat, 21 September 2005: Jury was on the verge of a walkout

The Dundalk Democrat, 21 September 2005: We were afraid to talk back Sisters break their silence

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