The Murder of Seamus Ludlow in County Louth, May 1976. Towards a public inquiry?
Introduction to the murder of Seamus Ludlow and the official cover-up.
The recent Campaign for Truth and Justice.
Other Ludlow Family Sites.
MAGILL Ireland's Current Affairs Monthly, April 1999:
Murder, Collusion & Lies
Critical evidence that would have led to the arrest of members of the North's security forces for the 1976 murder of a Co Louth man, lay in a closed Garda file for twenty years, a top official source confirmed to Magill. The identities of four Loyalists, who were only last year arrested for the murder of Seamus Ludlow, were known to Gardai two decades ago but no action was taken. By Liz Walsh.
Seamus Ludlow, a 47-year-old wood cutter was shot dead by Loyalists in May 1976 in Dundalk. For two decades, the Gardai told his family he was murdered by the IRA for informing. Bertie Ahern's government now must decide whether to hold a public inquiry into the controversy, or to publish the main findings of a new Garda report into the 1976 Garda investigation. Elements within the Department of Foreign Affairs are understood to be in favour of either one or the other, but the Department of Justice is strenuously opposed to both options. Taoiseach Ahern has broached the matter with Justice Minister John O'Donoghue and political sources say it is likely to be discussed at cabinet as it straddles two government departments.
Demands from the Ludlow family and human rights organizations for a public inquiry place the government on the horns of a dilemma. by its very nature, such an inquiry may uncover further scandals from the 1970s, when allegations of Garda/British security force collusion were rife, just as the northern peace process enters a critical phase. If he attempts to bury the matter, Ahern will be on extremely shaky ground should he decide to lecture the British Government over alleged RUC involvement in the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, when he has a potentially damaging security scandal in his own jurisdiction.
Political action will be dictated to some degree by the decision of the North's Director of Public Prosecutions whether to bring criminal charges against the four Loyalists. The RUC sent the file to the DPP on October 23 last and a decision is expected back shortly, according to a senior RUC source close to the case.
The weight of evidence now emerging points to the joint suppression of vital evidence by the RUC and the then Garda authorities led by Commissioner Ned Garvey. The 1976 Garda investigation was suspended inexplicably. A fresh inquiry into that investigation, led by Chief Superintendent Ted Murphy, found no reason why it should not have proceeded, particularly with the information that was then available. Moreover, the new investigation found nothing to disprove allegations that information was suppressed, according to official sources who have seen Murphy's report.
The report, which is now with Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne, has not, however, established who ordered the initial murder investigation stopped or suspended, or why. The commissioner will not comment on the Murphy report pending the decision of the DPP in Belfast. Neither the present Garda authorities nor anyone connected with the Murphy inquiry were involved in the initial investigation. Of those who were, there is no suggestion that they acted in any way other than in strict accordance with their duties.
If vital information was suppressed - and this has yet to be proven - the evidence suggests that this was done within Garda Headquarters at senior level, possibly at the instigation of Garvey himself. A key allegation as to why the authorities concealed the politically sensitive circumstances surrounding the Ludlow murder is that they were protecting an agent for the British military intelligence. Two of Seamus Ludlow's alleged killers were officers in the British Army's Ulster Defence Regiment who were also members of the paramilitary Red Hand Commandos. The gunman was also in the red Hand Commandos and has long been suspected of being an agent or informer for the British military. From Bangor, Co Down, he was allegedly involved in multiple killings, among them the 1976 murder of Sinn Fein vice-president Maire Drumm and the murder of a Comber man six weeks after Ludlow's death. A fourth man, Paul Hosking, travelled with the killers the night they crossed the border and he witnessed the opportunistic murder of Seamus Ludlow. In 1987 Hosking gave the RUC Special Branch a full account of the murder. Forget it, they advised him, it was political.
It was not until February 1998, a year after the case was reopened, that the four were arrested for the murder of Seamus Ludlow; three in the north of one, the gunman, in Staffordshire. They were taken to Castlereagh detention centre. During the following three days the UDR officer who drove the car made a statement, as did Paul Hosking. The gunman, "Mambo", and the UDR captain, who was since convicted of another murder, remained silent.
In an interview with Magill in his Newtownards home, Hosking protested his innocence in the Ludlow killing. He said he gave a full account of the murder and details of the culprits to the RUC Special Branch in 1987. He named the serving RUC officer who he met by pre-arrangement in the Scrabo Inn in Newtownards. He told Magill: "He (named officer) said "We know you were in the car that night". I told him everything that happened and then I asked him what was going to happen to me? I thought I'd be charged with withholding information or something. He told me to forget it - it's political."
During questioning last February, Hosking told detectives that the Special Branch already had the information on the killing for eleven years: "I told them that members of her Majesty's forces had crossed the border, armed, and they (the police) had covered it up. I asked them who they were protecting. Whoever it was, it wasn't me. I made a written statement and signed it." Hosking agreed to enter the adjacent cell where the UDR captain was being questioned. He says, "I was asked if that was the man who was in the car on the night of the murder and I said 'yes'."
No new information came to light between 1987, when Paul Hosking gave the RUC Special Branch an account of the murder, and the arrests in 1998. Evidently the police possessed prima facie evidence for more than a decade, if not longer, that could lead to three of the Loyalists being charged for murder and Hosking for withholding information. "if it had been dealt with in 1987, I wouldn't have this hanging over my head now, when I have two young children," observes Hosking.
A senior RUC source confirmed that the alleged gunman, Mambo, "was involved in a lot of serious terrorist incidents". He had been arrested for the Maire Drumm murder (on the word of a supergrass) and was later released, but remains a suspect for that crime. There was never sufficient evidence to charge him with serious terrorist crimes, according to the RUC. Yet, for eleven years the RUC Special Branch had a witness who saw him shoot dead Seamus Ludlow, but they sat on that evidence.
It is quite probable that the Branch did not share the 1987 information with their counterparts in the South. It was a politically sensitive period, in that the future of the UDR was on the agenda of the fledgling Anglo-Irish Agreement, and here were UDR officers crossing the border, armed, and killing Irish citizens. The question then arises, was the cover-up in 1987 or in 1976? On the face of it, 1987 would appear more likely, except for the fact that the Gardai knew the identity of the killers years earlier, but failed to act. At the very least, this was dereliction of duty by the Garda Siochana. The fact that they continued to lie about IRA involvement supports the claim that Ludlow's murder was covered up for political reasons.
It was not until 1996 that the family of Seamus Ludlow learned who the killers were and that the Gardai had known all along. They learned this, through a third party, from Det Sgt. Owen Corrigan (now retired) who had worked on the case. Corrigan told the third party that the killers were Loyalists from "Dundonald way" and that the Gardai knew this. (Dundonald is beside Comber where three of them lived. The gunman lived nearby in Bangor).
The case was reopened by the former Commissioner Patrick Culligan and a parallel investigation got underway in the north under RUC Chief Superintendent Jim Molloy.
When Magill contacted Owen Corrigan at Corrigan's Bar in Drogheda, he said he had made a "conscious decision not to talk to journalists". There is no suggestion that the retired detective or any other officer assigned to the case suppressed vital information. If it was withheld deliberately, it would have been at senior level in Garda headquarters under Commissioner Ned Garvey, who was replaced in 1978 by the Fianna Fail government.
Incidents involving cross-border incursions and Garda collusion with the British security forces in the early to mid-Seventies - when Garvey was Assistant Commissioner For Crime and Security - are meticulously documented. Fred Holroyd, a former British intelligence officer with MI6, had three meetings with Garvey at the Phoenix Park HQ between 1974 and 1975. The last meeting took place the day before Holroyd finally left the North.
Holroyd told Magill, "Garvey knew the information he was giving me was going back to MI6 because he was aware that I was a conduit for that organization. At one of the meetings he handed me photographs of 200 republicans from the IRA and INLA to take back."
Holroyd also tells how Garvey would arrange a "freeze area" on the southern side of the border, effectively allowing the British security forces to move unhindered. "He would tell local officers to pull back from an area, so many grid squares, so the intelligence forces could move around with impunity and without anyone knowing. Garvey viewed the IRA as a serious threat to the southern state. He felt what he was doing was absolutely right.
If the Ludlow information was suppressed, either by Ned Garvey himself, or on his instructions, the fact may never be proven, as he died in 1989. Other senior officers involved have also died.
The Killing of Seamus Ludlow
On the Saturday afternoon of May 1, 1976 Paul Hosking was sitting in the First and Last bar in comber, a well-known UDA haunt. It was a sunny day and the bar was virtually deserted as most of Comber had decamped to Glasgow to see Rangers play in the Scottish Cup Final. Hosking, a 19-year-old factory worker, couldn't afford the trip so he stayed in his local, drinking.
Between 6 and 7 pm three men came into the bar; one a captain in the British Army's Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), the other a UDR officer. The third man, from Bangor, was nicknamed "Mambo". All three belonged to the outlawed UVF and had overlapping membership of its Loyalist offshoot, the Red Hand Commandos.
The UDR captain, "L", whom Hosking had got to know in the preceding weeks, suggested that all four go somewhere else in the second UDR man's car, a yellow, two-door Datsun sports. Hosking recalls, "We went to Killyleagh, but nothing was happening there either, it was very quiet. "L" mentioned that there were IRA checks along the border and said "do you fancy going down to spy on them?"" Hosking knew the off-duty UDR men were armed as he spotted the bulge under their arms. He went nevertheless, for what he says was "just a bit of adventure". The second UDR man, "F", was driving, Mambo sat in the front passenger seat and "L" and Hosking in the back.
As the Datsun approached the northern side of the border near Omeath it stopped at a permanent British Army checkpoint. It was around 10pm. The driver got out and flashed an identity card at the soldiers. Hosking says, "When he got back into the car, he was laughing, he said "isn't it great to have a UDR pass!"". They were waved through. Safely over the border, the four stopped at a pub in the Omeath area. Says Hosking, "The highlights of the match was on the TV in the corner, I must have had three or four pints of Guinness. The other three were on the other side of the bar, they didn't seem interested in the match. We stayed about an hour, then we left, it must have been near midnight. I had a lot of drink taken because I'd been drinking all day."
Instead of heading back north, "F" turned the car south towards Dundalk. Around the same time, Seamus Ludlow was downing his last pint in the Lisdoo Arms a couple of miles from his home in Thistle Cross, north of Dundalk. A quiet country bachelor who earned his living chopping wood in Ravensdale Forest, Seamus looked considerably older than his 47 years. He was hitching a lift on the main road as the yellow Datsun pulled up. Hosking recalls, "I saw this guy walking along, he was thumbing. He seemed to have had a good few pints. He was unsteady on his feet." The UDR captain stopped the car and Mambo got out of the front passenger seat to let Seamus Ludlow in the back, between Paul Hosking and "L".
"I didn't know where we were until I saw a sign saying Dundalk", says Hosking. "I remember the guy saying 'I live over there' and the car reversed and someone, I think it was Mambo, said 'we're just going down here'. There was a wee lane. It was pitch dark."
They were on the Ballymac Road, an isolated dirt-track known locally as the Bog Road. It was in this lonely laneway that Seamus Ludlow was shot dead at point blank range as he sat in the car.
The shock still lives in Hosking's memory: "I'd got out to have a pee. I was standing at the hedge and I heard bang-bang-bang. When I turned round I saw Mambo leaning into the car with something in his hand that I took to be a gun. He shot him in the car. Mambo began pulling the guy out and "L" was pushing him."
The body fell on the ground and Mambo and "L" threw it into the hedge. "F" remained in the driver's seat. Hosking says he stood there looking on in horror. "They shouted at me to get into the car. I sat in the back where the guy had just been shot dead. I was terrified, I felt sick, I thought they were going to shoot me. It didn't take a feather out of Mambo. On the way home I remember him saying he'd kill a Prod if he thought he'd get away with it. I took it that he meant me because of what I'd seen." The gang drove to Killyleagh on the shores of Strangford Lough where they changed cars. "L" drove Hosking home to Comber. "I remember feeling totally shocked. When I got out of the car I wiped my hand down my trousers on the right side. They were full of blood."
At around 3pm the following day, two tourists from the north discovered Seamus Ludlow's body lying face upwards in the hedge, his feet in the lane. His right arm was extended, his hand lying among briars and nettles. His nylon shirt was heavily blood-stained and pulled up over his stomach. There were four bullet holes on the front of his pullover. The pathology report by Dr John Harbinson showed Ludlow had been shot through the heart, lung and liver and died of shock and haemhorrhage. The fatal shot passed through the heart.
On Monday, May 3, the night after the body was found, Paul Hosking went back to the First and Last bar where he met "L", the UDR captain. He recalls, "He said 'your life could be in danger because you're a witness to murder' and that I'd have to join up (the Red Hand Commandos). I went to see the UDA commander and he said he'd take care of it. He must have because they didn't mention it again."
Magill asked Hosking, now 42, and a father of two, why he hadn't reported the murder to the authorities, even anonymously. He says that he was terrified the other members of the killing gang would find out through their UDR connections: "From what I saw, Mambo was a total psychopath. If he could pick up a total stranger and kill him just like that, he could do anything. I was frightened for myself and my mother and the rest of the family." Magill also asked why the killers would take along someone who had consumed a lot of drink and had no taste for violence, when the dominant theory is that the gunmen were looking for senior republicans who were in Dundalk that night? Hosking says he does not believe they had planned to kill anyone. The murder of Seamus Ludlow was both random and opportunistic.
Six weeks after the murder Hosking came across "L" (the UDR captain), Mambo and another UVF man in the First and Last bar. The three were deep in conversation. Shortly afterwards, news came through that a Comber Protestant had been shot dead. The intended target was a Catholic. Reports emanating from police sources at the time said the was a hitman from Bangor. "L" and the other UVF man were subsequently tried, convicted and sentenced for the Comber murder. The Bangor gunman, reported to be Mambo, remained free.
The next time Hosking came face to face with "L" was twenty-two years later in Castlereagh Detention Centre where both men were being questioned about the murder of Seamus Ludlow.
A family divided
In 1976, within hours of the discovery of Seamus Ludlow's body, the Gardai began to pin the blame for the Louth murder on the Provisional IRA. Compounding this wrong, the family allege that they were told separately and by different detectives from Dublin and Dundalk that Seamus was shot for informing and that one section of the family had prior knowledge.
The IRA denied responsibility for the killing. In a statement issued on May 15, two weeks after the murder, the Provisional IRA said: "No unit or member of our organization was connected in any way." This followed an earlier statement from the South Armagh Brigade saying the killing was "obviously the work of some British Army/SAS unit or Loyalist killers from the north".
"The Gardai kept insisting it was the IRA," says Ludlow's nephew, James Sharkey. "Two days after Seamus' murder I was questioned for three to four hours in the back of a Garda car, and they kept repeating 'it was the IRA, you know it was the fucking IRA'. It was the height of the Troubles and I suppose it suited the political situation at the time to blame republicans."
The day after the funeral, a British Army patrol called to Ludlow's brother-in-law Kevin Donegan (now deceased), at his south Armagh home. According to the family, Donegan, a staunch republican, was airlifted to Bessbrook Army base where he was questioned by a British army officer about the line of enquiry being pursued by the Gardai.
Officially, the family was still being told the IRA was responsible. The flow of disinformation continued until 1997 and effectively divided the Ludlow family for almost a quarter of a century. The Gardai's actions would appear inexplicable in the light of Murphy's report, which shows that the Gardai knew from the early stages of the investigation that Loyalists, not the IRA, were responsible for the murder. "Their attitude was that a member of his own family murdered him, or else had him murdered," reports Kevin Donegan's son, Michael. "My father went to his grave believing what they told him."
Seamus Ludlow's inquest was set for August 1976, but the family were not notified until 45 minutes beforehand and, as a result, were not represented. (This, and other peripheral issues are dealt with in the second part of Ted Murphy's report) In each subsequent year, Seamus' elderly brother, Kevin, called to Dundalk Garda station to be appraised of the investigation. Each time he was told 'no news' and that the IRA did it.
"I feel very bitter," he says. "My brother used to canvass for Fine Gael, he was very close to Paddy Donegan (Minister of Defence at the time of the killing). For all those years we believed what the guards had told us. Surely to God the truth must come out now."
Official sources in the Republic confirmed to Magill that Seamus Ludlow's family were treated badly by the Gardai Siochana. One reliable official source was unable to explain why this had happened, except to say "things would be handled much differently now". The Ludlow family wants the State to undo some of the damage by publishing the findings of the Murphy report into the 1976 Garda investigation or, preferably, by holding a full public inquiry.
Meanwhile, an interesting message of sympathy for the family of the recently murdered Red Hand Commando Frankie Currie appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 19 March.
It read: "Deepest sympathy to Cassie, Karen and family. From Mambo"