High Court told halting of Seamus Ludlow case ‘crying out for investigation’

February 6, 2017

A barrister acting for the family of Seamus Ludlow has told the High Court in Dublin that evidence which indicates that an investigation into the murder of the Dundalk man was set aside in the Republic’s national interest is “crying out for an investigation.”

Forty seven year old Seamus Ludlow, a forestry worker, was shot dead in May 1976.  It is believed the murder was carried out by loyalists who crossed the border to carry out the attack.  No one has ever been charged in connection with his death.

His nephew has brought the family’s fight against an alleged cover-up to the High Court, where they are seeking a declaration that the Irish government’s failure to launch a state inquiry is unlawful.

A parliamentary committee in Dublin recommended more than 10 years ago that two commissions of investigation be established – one to examine the Garda investigation and cooperation with the RUC, the other to examine missing case files.  To date, neither body has been set up.

The RUC told the Garda in 1979 that it believed four named loyalists were involved in Mr Ludlow’s killing but the Garda did not pursue the information at the time.

The court heard last week that the murder probe was suspended without explanation three weeks after it began and a local garda told the Ludlow family he believed the orders to halt the investigation “came from Dublin.”

Ronan Lavery QC questioned if justice was shelved because a policy was adopted at the highest levels in the Republic not to pursue the suspected killers in Northern Ireland.

“The most disturbing aspect of this case is the evidence of a policy being in place, for whatever reason, that suspects would not be interviewed north of the border and the investigation would not be pursued because of some kind of perceived national interest at that time,” he said.

Mr Lavery said Mr Ludlow’s killing was part of a “dirty war” and asked “was it that the national interest so outweighed the right of the family to have a proper investigation into his murder?”

“These are weighty matters and they are crying out for an investigation,” added the barrister Mr Lavery told the court there were “a lot of unanswered questions” about the halting of the investigation and that the lack of explanation for why documents went missing, missing documents pointed to a cover-up at the highest levels of the gardai and government.

Two suspects in the murder were serving members of the UDR – a fact which fuelled suspicions of British state collusion.

The Ludlow family claim an important line of inquiry was ignored by the gardai, namely that Mr Ludlow was murdered by either loyalist paramilitaries or the British Army, who were targeting a senior IRA man, in a case of mistaken identity.

Gardaí’s failure to question a group of eight SAS men found in the Republic following the murder was also criticised as was “an orchestrated and persistent smear campaign” carried out by gardaí against Mr Ludlow, claiming he was killed by the Provisional IRA for being an informer. The campaign also sparked a decades-long rift among the family with the garda initiated rumour that some family members had prior knowledge of the murder.

The court also heard that Mr Ludlow’s brother-in-law, the late Kevin Donegan, who lived in the North, was kidnapped and airlifted to Bessbrook British army base where he was questioned by a British army officer about the Garda investigation into the murder.

Mr Donegan had been in regular contact with the Garda at the time seeking updates on the case.

Barrister Mr Lavery said the family has never been given a good reason for the justice minister’s failure to establish a commission of investigation and he added that the halting of the inquiry “simply raises more suspicion and more doubt on the effect on the rule of law and on the institutions of the state.”

Barrister for the Justice Minister, Conor Power SC, insisted that a new inquiry would not establish anything more than was already revealed in a 2005 report by Judge Henry Barron as well as a 2007 investigation into Garda file handling in the Dublin/Monaghan bombings case. He said investigations in the Republic had been “exhausted in the circumstances” and outlined that the suspects live outside the jurisdiction.

“Neither they nor the authorities of another sovereign state would be compellable before a commission of inquiry,” he said.

“The way things stand at the moment there would be no prosecution – both Directors of Public Prosecution, north and south, are resigned to that at this stage.”

Describing the murder of Mr Ludlow as “a callous sectarian murder”, Mr Power highlighted the Garda’s previous apology for the manner of the investigation and drew attention to the fact that the Garda investigation into the murder is not closed.

Urging “realism”, the barrister said the Ludlow family must accept “that there will be no prosecution.” He said the identity of the four suspects has been in the public arena for some time and that significant investigative steps taken by State agencies into the murder and investigation had helped establish this information, indicating there “has been a willingness to engage with the issue openly and publicly for many years.”

Mr Power said the public cost of the inquiry would also be an issue.

In his affidavit for the court, Mr Ludlow’s nephew Thomas Fox said Mr Ludlow’s mother had died without knowing the truth of her son’s death, while the rest of his immediate family had become too old or frail to carry on the campaign.

“So it has been left to my generation to continue this fight for truth,” he said.

“They desperately seek the truth before they also die.”

The case continues.