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

3 July 2002 - The Irish Attorney General has directed the Coroner for County Louth to hold a fresh inquest into the death of Seamus Ludlow.  . . . . Please return for updates and important developments.

 

 

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Meeting the Police Ombudsman

 

Members of the Ludlow family, Jimmy Sharkey, Michael Donegan and Brendan Larkin - nephews of the late Seamus Ludlow who was murdered near Dundalk, County Louth, by Loyalist Red Hand Commando and British Army Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) members in May 1976 - had an interesting meting with Mrs Nuala O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, in Belfast, on 4 March 2002. 

The office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland was set up to provide an independent impartial investigation of complaints against the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), now renamed the Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNI). It was set up under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998.

As Ed Moloney, writing in the Dublin Sunday Tribune newspaper, wrote, the Ludlow family's approach to the North's Police Ombudsman came:

"in the wake of remarks by the RUC Chief Constable's office that could mean that an agent was involved in the affair. In a July 2000 letter to an American supporter of the family the Chief Constable's office wrote: "I can inform you it is not force policy to comment on matters pertaining to "Agents". Police reports to the DPP are confidential documents as are forensic/ballistic reports."

The letter to Nuala O'Loan from the Ludlow family solicitor states: "Our clients are anxious that you would use your powers to investigate the role of the RUC in relation to the investigation of this murder. Our client's primary concern is that the guilty parties were identified at an early date but that no effective steps were taken to secure a prosecution.

"Of primary concern therefore to our clients is to establish what was known to the police authorities and when it was known. On a second level they would be anxious to know what information was communicated by the RUC to their colleagues in An Garda Siochana and when that was communicated."

Mrs Nuala O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman, who has met with a Ludlow family group. The Ludlow family group was accompanied by a representative of the family's solicitor, James MacGuill, Dundalk, and by Jane Winter, Director of British Irish Rights Watch (BIRW), London. Jane had flown over that morning especially for the meeting and she was returning to London directly afterwards. 

The Ludlow family had hoped that Mrs O'Loan would investigate the role of the RUC in this sorry affair and help establish the truth behind the northern element to the cover-up that has protected the killers of Seamus Ludlow. Unfortunately, the meeting proved to be rather disappointing in that the Police Ombudsman has refused to permit family members and their legal representatives access to the RUC's files. 

Furthermore, Mrs O'Loan's has no powers to compel relevant retired RUC officers and she has no jurisdiction over MI5, SAS and British Army intelligence officers who may also have important questions to answer. Also disappointing was the apparently less than thorough RUC investigation that appears to be evident from the sparse information that Mrs O'Loan was prepared to reveal. Many questions remain unanswered regarding the RUC's handling of the case since 1976, particularly their failure to question the known suspects before 1998 and their failure to locate the car involved.

However, the Ludlow family's meeting with Mrs O'Loan did prove to be a worthwhile experience in that it provided an important opportunity for the family to ask important questions and to hear, in some instances, of important information for the first time. The meeting also helped to confirm much of what the Ludlow family already knew about their dear relative's murder and about the botched investigation that followed.

Among a number of surprising revelations was the fact that the RUC first became aware of the Loyalist killers' identities and other substantive information as early as September 1977 and that, for reasons not yet specified, this information was withheld from the gardai until 15 February 1979. This fact poses important questions regarding the role of the RUC - why did the RUC not pass the information onto the Gardai until almost eighteen months later? What, if any, action did the RUC take against any of the four prime suspects between 1977 and 1979? How many other lives could have been saved if such action had been taken?

It was revealed that the initial gardai murder investigation was wound up on 21 May 1976, after only 19 days! No explanation for this has been given. Indeed, the Ludlow family was assured that the investigation remained open!

It was also revealed that there was no new information on file at the time of the four  arrests in February 1998, and that the arrests were based solely on the information that had been available in 1979 - or was that 1977? Why then did neither the RUC nor the Gardai move against the four suspects more than twenty years previously?

No information could be provided to account for the RUC's failure to pass the information on to the gardai before 1979, nor could it be shown that the RUC did anything at all with this information. The Ludlow family was not at all impressed by this apparent failure of the RUC to apprehend or take any action against the alleged killers of Seamus Ludlow. The Ludlow family does not share the Ombudsman's belief that the RUC behaved properly in this case. The equally shameful and inexplicable failure of the gardai to act with the information they received in February 1979 in no way excuses the RUC's inaction.

Mrs O'Loan was accompanied by two senior detectives from her office of the Police Ombudsman, one identified as her Chief Investigating Officer and the other as an Investigating Officer. Though all three had looked at the case, it was the latter who had  studied the case file in greatest detail.

Mrs O'Loan explained that the Seamus Ludlow case raised more questions than answers. Her difficulty was that the murder had occurred in the southern jurisdiction and that is where the bulk of the police investigation took place, and she had no jurisdiction in the Republic. She pointed out that the RUC would not have regarded the murder of Seamus Ludlow in County Louth as a crime for them to investigate, but would have responded to requests for information and co-operation from the Gardai. But, she stressed, no such requests were received!

As for the RUC's 1998 investigation, she noted that a file had been sent to the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), but the DPP had decided not to prosecute and he was not obliged to give reasons for this decision. The Police Ombudsman  added that she could not investigate a case unless she had reasonable grounds for suspecting that an RUC officer had committed a criminal offence or a breach of discipline. She had not found evidence of either in this case, so technically she could not investigate the case. 

Another impediment to her was the fact that she had no jurisdiction over retired RUC officers. Still, she did believe that there was need for an overarching inquiry embracing both jurisdictions.

During the course of the meeting the following chronology was established, partly confirming details already known to the Ludlow family, but with the addition of new facts that had not been known:

1 May 1976 - Seamus Ludlow murdered by Loyalists near Dundalk, County Louth, after leaving a Dundalk bar around midnight. His body was found the next day, around 3.00 pm lying on top of a ditch in a lane near his Mountpleasant home. He had been shot three times

21 May 1976 - The Gardai murder investigation was effectively shut down - after only 19 days

2 June 1976 - Mr David Spratt was murdered in Comber, north County Down

May 1977 - Two men convicted and imprisoned for the Spratt murder - one of whom was a suspect for the Seamus Ludlow killing. A third man, another suspect in the Ludlow killing, was acquitted

September 1977 - The RUC came into possession of detailed intelligence about the Loyalist murder of Seamus Ludlow - this being the earliest date, so far, admitted by the RUC for having knowledge of Seamus Ludlow's killers

15 February 1979 - Two Gardai detectives from Dublin travelled to Belfast where they met with the RUC and took possession of the RUC intelligence about the murder of Seamus Ludlow

17 February 1998 - The RUC arrested the four Loyalists for questioning about the murder of Seamus Ludlow

The Police Ombudsman's investigating officers had examined the RUC's 1998 investigation file, which the Ludlow family have not been allowed to see. The Ludlow family group was informed that this file appears to include a complete copy of the Gardai's 1976 investigation file, yet another file that has been withheld from the Ludlow family.

The Gardai's 1976 file, they were told, included witness statements, photographs, the autopsy report, and an assessment of the case that was written by Garda Superintendent Richard Fahy, dated 21 May 1976. Superintendent Fahy had been the officer in charge of the criminal investigations in Dundalk, though it had long been assumed that the late Dan Murphy from Dublin Castle had taken over the investigation from him. 

According to the Ombudsman's investigating officer, Superintendent Fahy's assessment concluded that all options remained open, but effectively the investigation was over, after only nineteen days! This was never disclosed to the Ludlow family, who were continually assured that the investigation remained open.

Also in the file was a copy of an unsigned, undated, though probably genuine, note, written by Garda Superintendent John Courtney, which detailed a meeting between the Gardai and the RUC on 15 February 1979, during which the RUC passed on detailed intelligence about the murder of Seamus Ludlow. The intelligence named the four Loyalist suspects and described each of their roles in the crime. It said that the murder weapon was a .38 Smith & Wesson. It also described the car that was used on the night of 1 May 1976. It was clear from the file that the RUC had held the information since 1977!

The Ombudsman's investigating officer did not know why the RUC did not pass this information on to the Gardai until 1979. As far as he knew the RUC did not question any of the four suspects. They would not have done this unless the Gardai had asked them to, and there was no evidence on file to suggest that the Gardai did so until 1998! However, there appears to be a suggestion in the RUC's 1998 interview notes that one of the suspects (but not the alleged witness Paul Hosking) had at one time been questioned by the RUC in connection with Seamus Ludlow's murder while under arrest in another case.

Garda Superintendent John Courtney's note suggested some potential courses of action in response to the intelligence he received from the RUC in February 1979. Among these was his suggestion that two of the bullets recovered from the body of Seamus Ludlow should be sent north to the Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory (NIFSL) to see if they matched the bullets used in the murder of David Spratt in June 1976. There is no evidence on the file to suggest that any of these lines of inquiry was ever followed up!

The Ombudsman's investigating officer had no idea whether the gun recovered in the Spratt case was still in existence, and there was no evidence that the RUC had looked for it. (Two men were sentenced for the Spratt murder, and the gun was recovered.) Once again, it is assumed that the Gardai did not ask them to do so!

In a surprising revelation, the investigating officer said that he had established that only one of the three bullets recovered in the Seamus Ludlow case was still in existence! Ludlow family members had been told that the State Pathologist had handed three bullets over to Garda officer Niland, and that they had been told that the Gardai still had the bullets! It is not known whether the Gardai had asked the NIFSL to carry out tests on two of the bullets, as Superintendent Courtney had suggested in 1979, though there seems to be a possibility that the bullets were sent north to Belfast for examination. Clearly, there are important questions to answer here - and the whereabouts of the bullets must be established at any inquiry or inquest.

It was learned that the RUC had not traced the yellow two-door Datsun car that was used in the murder of Seamus Ludlow, so it had not been forensically examined. If it was still in existence and the seats had not been changed, then modern DNA forensic tests could have provided hard evidence that could have been presented in court. Ludlow family member Jimmy Sharkey told the Ombudsman that he had been told that the car had passed through the hands of several owners in the years that followed and that it had ended up in a scrap yard. There was no record in the RUC files of any search for the car!

When the RUC interviewed the four Loyalist suspects in February 1998, Paul Hosking gave very much the same account of the night of 1 May 1976 as he later gave to Belfast journalist Ed Moloney, of the Dublin newspaper The Sunday Tribune. Another man in the car that night also admitted to being at the scene of Seamus Ludlow's murder, and said that they were looking for intelligence on an IRA man. 

Both Hosking and this second man placed the two others at the scene and both identified the same man as the killer of Seamus Ludlow. However, in a major discrepancy in their statements, the second man does not place Hosking in the car! 

Of the others, one man denied being there, while the fourth man refused to answer any questions that the RUC put to him. The Ombudsman's Chief Investigating Officer pointed out that since all four were suspects what they said was regarded as tainted accomplice evidence and it would not secure a conviction in court without independent corroboration.

However, he was of the view that the February 1998 RUC interviews were good, strong, detailed interviews that did not give rise to any grounds for an investigation by the Police Ombudsman. In his view, Hosking and the second witness had both implicated themselves and the two others and he could not understand why the DPP had decided not to prosecute.

Jimmy SharkeyOn the question of why the Gardai had suddenly requested the RUC to interview the four suspects, Jimmy Sharkey pointed out that in  the mid-1990s the investigative journalist Joe Tiernan started to work on the case. He was interested in the activities of the late Robin Jackson, and Gardai Detective Sergeant Owen Corrigan, retired, told him that it was Jackson who had murdered his Uncle Seamus Ludlow. 

Jimmy then went to Garda Chief Superintendent Michael Finnegan and asked for the case to be reopened. Chief Superintendent Ted Murphy, who led the Garda Drugs Squad at Dublin Castle, was then put in charge of the case. 

Ted Murphy met with Jimmy Sharkey and he told him that he had the wrong names. But, by then Jimmy had come into possession of one name from another source. Murphy asked Jimmy to meet him for a second time. This second meeting was in Balbriggan, and it was where Murphy told Jimmy that the Gardai knew all about the case all along, and that he had found the four names of those involved lying in a file.

The Ombudsman confirmed that in 1998 the RUC had questioned the RUC Special Branch officer who had interviewed Paul Hosking in 1987. The Special Branch man has since retired from the RUC. The RUC also interviewed another retired RUC officer, a relative of Hosking, who had facilitated the meeting in 1987. The former Special Branch officer denies discussing the murder of Seamus Ludlow with Hosking and Hosking's relative says that he did not hear much of the conversation, but what he does say tends to corroborate the retired Special Branch officer rather than Hosking.

The investigating officer did not know whether the eight SAS men who were arrested after crossing the border at Omeath shortly after the murder of Seamus Ludlow were ever questioned about the case. This matter, he said, falls outside the remit of the Police Ombudsman's office. 

Nor does he know if it was true that the RUC had asked the British Army to question the late Kevin Donegan, a brother-in-law of the late Seamus Ludlow, about the Gardai's murder investigation. it will be remembered, that Mr Donegan, a brother-in-law of the late Seamus Ludlow, was airlifted by a British military helicopter from Forkhill to Bessbrook Mill Army Barracks, where he was questioned by a British Army military intelligence officer about the Gardai's line of inquiry. The Army had called to the Donegan home, on the day after Seamus Ludlow's funeral, claiming that they were sent by the RUC. The whole incident reveals that the British Army had some interest in the murder of Seamus Ludlow. Regrettably, the Police Ombudsman has no powers to investigate these events involving the British Army.

The ombudsman's investigating officer refused to reveal whether any of the four Loyalist suspects were informers, as has been alleged in the press. Mrs O'Loan explained that they would only disclose information in very exceptional circumstances, because to do otherwise might put lives at risk. She refused to show the Ludlow family the RUC file. She also refused to share the details of the intelligence passed to the Gardai by the RUC in 1979, in case it might jeopardize a future prosecution - though this now seems only a remote possibility.

Speaking to the local Dundalk Democrat, about the RUC's failure to pass information to the Gardai in 1977, Jimmy Sharkey commented: "I asked was there a reason given for the lapse of eighteen months in giving information, but this couldn't be explained. Mrs O'Loan did say that this lapse didn't constitute anything inappropriate but put it down to 'sloppy paperwork'.

"She couldn't understand when the information was given in 1979 to the Garda Siochana that nothing was done. Why they should wait until 1998 when they could have done the same years ago was beyond her. They had the same information all those years ago".

Mrs O'Loan couldn't explain to the family why the DPP didn't prosecute in 1998. There were strong charges. In her view there could have been prosecutions.

Jimmy continued: "Mrs O'Loan was very sympathetic to the family's situation, and although she wasn't telling us anything new she was showing us we were going in the right direction. It was agreed at the table that the problem now seems to be in Dublin.

"We explained to her that the family's problem with the Barron Enquiry was the secrecy surrounding it. What we really want to know now is what has the Government to hide.

He continued: "In meetings with the family, John O'Donoghue and Dermot Ahern have said the Government has nothing to hide in the murder of Seamus Ludlow.

"The facts are the information was given in 1979 was strong enough to extradite and prosecute. The case died nineteen days after the murder. From 1979 to 1998 the investigation went dry. Someone stopped this, most likely at a very high level".

 

I Homepage I I Top I Press Coverage I I Barron Inquiry I I Terms of reference for Barron Inquiry I I Fresh Inquest I I Celtic League Support I I New Guest Book I

See also :The Sunday Tribune, 15 April 2001: O'Loan asked to investigate Ludlow killing

The Dundalk Democrat, 9 March 2002: Ludlow relatives meet NI Ombudsman Sympathy but no new information

Copyright 2003 the Ludlow family. All rights reserved.
Revised: November 21, 2003