5 January 2016 Edition
The murder of Seamus Ludlow
40 years of collusion, conspiracy and cover-up
Seamus Ludlow’s body was found dumped in a ditch 100 yards from his home. He had been shot three times at close range – he had also been stabbed several times
ON SATURDAY 2 MAY 1976, 47-year-old forestry worker Seamus Ludlow had finished for the day at a timber yard in Ravensdale, County Louth, and went out to enjoy a drink and a few games of darts and rings with friends in Dundalk.
Described by locals as “a very kind man”, the bachelor was known for his fund-raising work on behalf of various charities.
Leaving the Lisdoo Arms pub at about 11:30pm, Seamus decided to hitch a lift on the Newry Road back towards his home in Thistle Cross, Mountpleasant, where he lived with his sister’s family and elderly mother. Sometime around midnight, a car stopped to give Seamus a lift. He was never seen alive again.
His body was found by tourists the following afternoon, dumped in a ditch 100 yards from his home. He had been shot three times at close range. He had also been stabbed several times.
Gardaí began to focus their investigation on the IRA as being suspected of the killing.
On Monday 3 May, however, the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade issued a statement in which it said that “no unit or member of the IRA was involved in this foul killing”, adding that it believed the British Army’s SAS or one of its unionist proxies had been behind the murder.
The Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando, directed by and including serving British soldiers, had been active in the Border area and had been implicated in a spate of killings, including that of John Francis Green in County Monaghan a year previously, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and the Miami Showband Massacre.
Claims that Seamus’s murder was the result of collusion between the British military and unionist death squads was given more credence the day after his funeral when eight SAS special forces soldiers were arrested by gardaí and Defence Forces troops on Flagstaff Road, more than half a kilometre south of the Border.
Two men in plainclothes were in the first car (fitted with false number plates) and in the boot were two submachine guns, handguns – and a dagger. Two more cars, containing another six armed SAS troopers, were stopped a few hours later.
Other items found to be in their possession included a detailed map of the north Louth area with the homes of 30 local republicans marked in pencil.
The arrest of the SAS undercover soldiers caused an international incident and sparked outrage among nationalists and those living in the Border area. The SAS troopers were taken to Dundalk Garda station, where 200 people surrounded the station, chanting “Murderers” and “Killers”. The SAS soldiers were subsequently fined £100 each for taking weapons into the South without firearms certificates and released.
Initially, individual gardaí told reporters at a number of newspapers that the wounds on Seamus’s body were consistent with “the use of weapons issued to operational SAS units”. But, on 10 May, Gardaí issued a contradictory statement denying there was any link between the SAS and the killing of Seamus Ludlow, describing the claims as “totally without foundation”. They later said they believed it to be a case of mistaken identity.
In the days after the murder, Seamus’s brother-in-law Kevin – who lived just across the Border in south Armagh with Seamus’s sister Kathleen – was abducted by British soldiers.
• Items found to be in the SAS men’s possession included a detailed map of the north Louth area with the homes of 30 local republicans marked in pencil
The British troops, who were not accompanied by the RUC, called to the Donegan home and made offensive statements to Kathleen. They claimed they were acting under orders from the Garda and the RUC (something which was later denied).
“The man in charge said to me and my husband: ‘Seamus Ludlow must be a very bad man. The IRA usually kneecap people but this time they killed him.’ I said: ‘It was not the IRA who killed him; you know who did it.’ My husband ordered them out the gate,” recalled Kathleen at the time.
Angry, Kevin cycled to the joint RUC/British Army base in Forkhill to demand an explanation. He was abducted by British soldiers, placed in a helicopter and flown to Bessbrook British Army base and then driven to Newry where he was interrogated by a British Army intelligence officer for more than three hours. The British officer was particularly interested in how the Garda investigation was progressing. The RUC also told Kevin that they had not sent the soldiers to his home.
Four weeks after the beginning of the investigation, it halted completely. Members of the Ludlow family say individual gardaí seem to have been under instructions not to talk to them. Seamus’s brother Kevin says he was repeatedly told by senior Special Branch detectives that the IRA were behind the killing.
The inquest into Seamus’s killing was held on 19 August 1976. It found that Seamus had been killed by a bullet wound to the heart. He had been shot at close range and his body later dumped in the ditch where it was found. Bizarrely, not one member of Seamus’s family was present at the inquest as the first they heard about it was a phone call made 45 minutes before it began.
Seamus’s elderly mother Annie was bedridden and died 18 months after her son’s murder. The family did not have the heart to tell her that he had been murdered and she died believing her son had been knocked down walking home from the pub..
Human Rights lawyer Kevin Winters, who is representing the family, told An Phoblacht following a meeting between the Ludlow family and Sinn Féin Louth TD Gerry Adams at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk:
“The family mean business in their quest for justice.”
Kevin Winters says the evidence shows a “clear connection between the killers and the British military” and says the family’s grief has been compounded by the authorities in the South “who haven’t facilitated or helped them in the way they ought to have”.
In October 1995, an investigative journalist met the family and provided them with new evidence which showed that unionists had been responsible for Seamus’s murder.
They describe the treatment of Seamus’s murder by the Irish authorities as “contemptuous”.
“We’ve been messed about for 40 years,” says Michael Donegan, Seamus’s nephew, “being lied to, being lied about by the gardaí here. We were forced into a process that led us nowhere.”
The family want to see recommendations from the Barron Report which called for the establishment of public tribunal of inquiry and that the Irish Government should bring the British Government before the European Court of Human Rights to force them to release files relating to collusion.
“The Barron Report has been shelved and we are no further on then we were 20 years ago,” says Michael. “We want to get to the truth of what happened and we want to see people who made decisions exposed. There is no great demand among the authorities in Dublin to identify who issued the instructions for lies to be told, for the cover-up, for the failure to bring my family to the first inquest in August 1976, or the abduction of my father by the British Army.”
• Michael Donegan, nephew of Seamus Ludlow, speaks to reporters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk
The Barron Report also highlighted how gardaí had been told that four named loyalists were involved in the murder but this line of inquiry was never pursued.
“The family feels very hurt and very upset by this whole event. There is a failure of people to admit what went on,” says Michael.
He says successive Governments and the Garda have totally failed them.
“We would like to see an admission from this state saying: ‘Yes, we mishandled this case’ and to say they are sorry for it. We want to see the files opened, files they’ve never allowed us to see. They’ve been telling us to trust them after they lied to us for 20 years.
“They’ve been doing nothing but trying to obstruct us. And there’s been no relaxation in that attitude towards us.”
Kevin Winters says the family will now look at pursuing legal avenues, North and South:
“We will have no hesitation in unpicking and examining the collusion allegations and we intend on bringing a civil case against the authorities in the North of Ireland.”
Kevin says the failure to implement the recommendations from the Barron Report was a lost opportunity:
“We have a representation going to Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald querying why the various recommendations from the Barron Report were not implemented. It was a big decision that could have helped give some element of closure to the families but they didn’t take it.”
• The family of Seamus Ludlow with their legal team from KRW Law and Sinn Féin TD Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams told An Phoblacht after meeting the family that representatives from all parties and none should work together to get to the bottom of such cases.
“This is not a party political matter. It is the responsibility of everyone in the Oireachtas to support the Ludlow family in the time ahead and we in Sinn Féin will do all we can to fulfil our responsibilities to raise it here, in the North and internationally.”
Adams says what is needed is leadership from the Irish Government, who must stand up in the interests of its own citizens and be willing to pursue all legal and political avenues open to them.
“If this Government does the right thing then it is much easier to get the British Government to do the right thing,” the Louth TD says. “I’ve consistently made the point that if Taoiseach Enda Kenny stands up in the national interest and that of an Irish citizen then the British Government will more easily be brought to do what is required. But if the Taoiseach isn’t saying it to the British Prime Minister, why would David Cameron listen to any of the rest of us?
“There’s a huge onus on the Taoiseach to stand up for citizens.”