The Murder of Seamus Ludlow in County Louth, May 1976. Towards a public inquiry?
The Argus (Dundalk), 9 September 2005:
The identity of the men who murdered north Louth man Seamus Ludlow was known to Gardai 18 months after his death 29 years ago but nothing was ever done to bring them to justice.
A fresh inquest into the death of the 47 year old forestry worker, who was abducted and murdered by Loyalists in May 1976, also heard that the IRA were eliminated as suspects two or three months after his death.
Coroner Mr. Ronan Maguire told the jury at the opening of the inquest on Monday that a fresh inquest had been ordered by the Attorney General as Mr. Ludlow’s family hadn’t been present at the original inquest on August 19th, 1976, and new information had come to light. At that inquest the only evidence given was by the then State Pathologist Dr John Harbison and by Dt Gda Jim Gannon who knew Mr. Ludlow personally and gave evidence of identification.
Retired Garda John Courtney, who was a Detective Inspector at the time, told how he was given the details of the murderers when he met with members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Belfast. He passed the information onto his superiors but no action was ever taken. He sought permission to investigate the matter further but this was refused by C3, the gardai’s anti-terrorism branch.
Mr. Courtney said that about 1,000 statements were taken after the murder but these didn’t lead to anything. Different people had been treated as suspects at different periods. Fifty or sixty detectives were initially involved in the investigation, which proved long and slow.
Eighteen months after the murder, he travelled to Belfast in relation to another matter. He was introduced to two detectives from the RUC who told him they might be able to help him in relation to the Ludlow case. They gave him names and addresses of the men involved and details of the case which corresponded with the information he had got in Dundalk.
He sent the details to the Chief Supt. in the area the next day. However, when he later made enquiries, he was told nothing was done about the information he had supplied. When he attempted to follow it up a few weeks later as he needed authority to interview the suspects, he was told that “the man in charge would not do anything about it.” He was never given any explanation.
He was annoyed about this as he always did his best to solve a murder.
Mr. Courtney said he had never personally told the Ludlow family that the IRA were suspected as being involved in Seamus’ murder. Neither did he tell them that the identity of the four men who were suspected of murdering him was known to the Gardai. He would have had to have interviewed the men himself to be certain that they were suspects.
Ms Deirdre Murphy SC, for the Ludlow family, said that the Gardai had never told the family of the UDA involvement in the killing.
Earlier, evidence was given by retired State Pathologist Professor John Harbison, that Mr. Ludlow had been shot three times at close range. Judging from powder soiling on his hand, he believed that the deceased had put up his hand in defence and that the fatal bullet had passed through his hand before entering his chest and travelling through his heart and left lung before lodging in his body. He concluded that Mr. Ludlow had died as a result of shock and haemorrhaging as a result of bullet wounds but he couldn’t say in what sequence the bullets had entered his body.
He had gone to a laneway at Culfore, Mountpleasant, where he saw Mr. Ludlow’s body in a ditch, 20 yards from the main road. The body was fully clothed and a jacket and coat had been thrown over it. He was surprised that the shoes the man had been wearing were remarkably clean in view of the muddy nature of the lane and concluded that the body had been dumped or thrown there. It would have taken more than one person to take the body there. He believed that death would have occurred twelve to twenty four hours prior to his examination at the scene at 8pm on May 2nd, five hours after the body had been discovered.
Two bullets were recovered from the clothing which Mr. Ludlow had been wearing and a third was found lodged in his body. He would have passed the bullets to Dt Michael Niland of the Garda Technical Bureau.
Evidence was also given on the opening day of the inquest by former jockey Cecil Mahon who said he had seen Mr. Ludlow standing on the Newry Road bridge around 12 midnight on May 1st. He knew Mr. Ludlow who he always thought of as “a harmless sort of fellow”. He was the last person to see Mr. Ludlow alive.
When the inquest resumed yesterday (Tuesday) morning, former Chief Supt Ted Murphy, who was asked by the Garda Commissioner to re-examine the case in mid-October 1996, said that he contacted the RUC. The four loyalists whose names had been given to former Chief Sup John Courtney were arrested at taken to Castlereagh RUC station for questioning. Two of them gave independent and accurate details of how Mr. Ludlow was murdered. They said that the shooting took place in the car before the body was left at the roadside. However, the men were never charged. He was unable to indentify a motive for the murder and it seemed that the four men had come down form Northenr Ireland with the intention of murdering some. Seamus Ludlow had appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was his honest opinion that John Courtney had done a very thorough job of investigating the murder.
He had inspected the files associated with the case and there was no record of whose function it was to inform the Ludlow family of when the original inquest was being held.
Neither was there anything on record indication that the IRA were suspects.
Retired Sgt. Jim Gannon, who was the first Garda on the scene when the body of Seamus Ludlow was discovered, denied telling the Ludlow family that he had been killed by the IRA. However, he might have repeated the rumour that the IRA were supposed to be involved at early stages. He considered Seamus’s brother Kevin to be a shrewd man so there would have been no point in saying something without having any evidence.
He said he had attended the first inquest only as a witness having being told about it at 10am by a superior officer, Frank Murray.
He knew that Kevin Ludlow had been anxious to attend the inquest and got a car to go from Dundalk to his home . However, when it arrived, his wife said Kevin was working in Newry.
He didn’t know if Kevin Ludlow had been informed about the inquest or other members of the family. It was not his task to inform them and he had only attended as a witness to give evidence.
Cross-examined by Ms Murphy if he had asked for the inquest to be adjourned so that the Ludlow family could attend, he said he had just given his evidence.
Mr. Kevin Ludlow told the jury that the fact that he hadn’t been at the first inquest had been a source of great distress.
There were other members of the family living in or near Dundalk who could have been contacted.
He called to the Garda Station on a Sunday evening after returning from holidays after neighbours told him that a Garda George Flynn had called to his house when he was away. He asked if the inquest was coming up and was told it wasn’t.
The following Thursday he was working in Newry. The Gardai called to his house at 10.15am and said the inquest was taking place at 11am. His wife asked if it could not be put back and she was told that it couldn’t, that it was the first on the list.
Mr. Ludlow recalled how after he had been informed on the afternoon of May 2nd 1976 that his brother Seamus was missing he set out in the direction of his home at Culfore. When he got to the Bog Road, he met a Garda who informed him that there was a body on the road.
He went up the road and met Sgt. Jim Gannon who told him there was a dead man and he identified the body as that of his brother.
He hadn’t known Sgt. Gannon before this but called to the Garda Barracks and his home four times in the years that followed as he wanted to see if there were any developments in the investigations. He said that Sgt. Gannon told him that the IRA might be responsible.
Mr. Ludlow said he remembered going to Sgt. Gannon’s house on June 9th 1995, the day before his daughter’s wedding. He was looking for an up date on the case and Sgt. Gannon told him that it was the IRA and accused a member of the family.
“He said he’d pin the murder on him yet,” he stated.
The family had never been told by the Gardai that the IRA were not responsible for their brother’s murder. In 1996 they got information from a journalist about who was responsible and subsequently expressed their annoyance at a meeting with Sgt. Gannon, Supt Staunton and Supt Finnegan.
Asked by the Coroner if he was satisfied that it had now been stated in public that Seamus Ludlow had nothing to do with the IRA, was a person of unblemished character who death was the worst and most horrible bad luck, Mr. Ludlow said he was.
SUPPORT THE SEAMUS LUDLOW APPEAL FUNDBank of Ireland 78 Clanbrassil Street Dundalk County Louth Ireland
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