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"There are top politicians with blood on their hands"

 Seamus Ludlow's family wants the same treatment from the Irish government as the McCartney sisters

Suzanne Breen

Seamus Ludlow never stayed out after midnight. He was 47 but he lived with his elderly mother and he knew she worried. Annie was bedridden. "Are you home yet Seamus?" she'd keep shouting down the hall until he returned from the pub.

"He was a mammy's boy, no question about it," says his nephew Jimmy Sharkey." He was a grown man who never grew up. He was so quiet you wouldn't know he was in the house.

"No-one was more inoffensive. When my granny gave off at him, there'd be no back cheek; he'd just leave the room. He wasn't an idiot mind you, just a simple fellow."

Seamus was a forestry worker. He lived at Thistle Cross, outside Dundalk, with Annie, his sister Nan, and her 10 children. "Seamus and I shared a bedroom. He was more like a brother than an uncle," says Sharkey. "He always told us, 'never bring trouble to the door'."

Another nephew, Michael Donegan, agrees: "The only extraordinary thing about him was his death." On 2nd May 1976, Seamus Ludlow was abducted and killed by loyalists. One is widely believed to have been an MI5 or RUC Special Branch agent; another two were allegedly UDR men.

Thumbing a lift home from the Lisdoo Arms at around 11.40pm, Seamus unwittingly got into his killers' car. He was shot three times from point-blank range; his body dumped. Annie (79) wasn't told that. The family just said he'd been knocked down. They thought the truth would break her heart. She died a year later anyway.

No-one has ever been charged with the murder. A preliminary hearing, in advance of a full inquest, opens in Dundalk courthouse on Tuesday. The family alleges massive wrong-doing by both the Irish and British authorities.

"They talk about cross-border co-operation - we had a cross-border cover-up," says Donegan. "I don't say this lightly but there are top politicians and security figures effectively with blood on their hands," says Sharkey.

"We suspect there was a secret agreement whereby the south turned a blind eye to British security forces and their agents operating across the border."

The family has been continually refused a public inquiry. They say that's diffifcult to understand because Seamus wasn't even a republican; he was a Fine Gael member. "He wasn't very active but he atended a few meetings and put up posters at election time," says Sharkey.

"The then defence minister Patrick Donegan, visited the house privately after the murder but not one Fine Gael minister or TD atended the funeral. A member of their party was murdered, yet their correspondence to us remains cold and matter-of-fact.

"Fianna Fail is no better. I met Bertie Ahern while on a wider victims' delegation, but he has refused a separate meeting with our family since. We had a bad-tempered meeting with John O'Donoghue who treated us with contempt.

"We've every sympathy for the McCartney sisters, but it's sad to see how much southern politicians do for them and how little for us."

The family's solicitor, James MacGuill, says Michael McDowell has been one of the few helpful politicians and was instrumental in securing the new inquest.

It had been a normal Saturday for Seamus Ludlow. After finishing work at Ravensdale Forest, he got cleaned up and headed to the pub. "He'd have a few bottles of Guinness and a game of cards or darts," says Sharkey. "He'd no interest in chasing women."

"He didn't know many people outside the family or work", says Donegan. "He'd never been more than a few miles down the road in his life. He was a good man for digging wells and planting hedges. He played the mouth organ. He'd have a few tunes for his mother  in the bed to cheer her up. The highlight of his year was dressing up as Santa for the kids at Christmas."

"A Catholic bachelor" is how the family publicly described him afterwards. He was a soft target for the three Red Hand Commando members and one UDA man from Co Down in their yellow Datsun. The family believe they'd crossed the border to kill a Dundalk man, now deceased, whose name is known to the Sunday Tribune. He had both IRA and Brtish intelligence links.

"They couldn't find him and they were psyched up to kill. It was a case of 'any Taig will do'. Seamus was in the wrong place at the wrong time," says Donegan. The next afternoon, a family out walking noticed that the cows in a field in Johnston's lane, off the Bog Road, were agitated by something in the ditch. They went over. It was the body of Seamus Ludlow.

"The gardai were smart. Puublicly, they said 'we're keeping an open mind'; privately they briefed the family that Seamus had seen something and been killed by the IRA as an informer," says Donegan. Senior republicans visited the house and denied this. Young family members believed them; older ones took the gardai's word.

There was strange behaviour. Kevin Ludlow, Seamus's brother, was the sole family member informed of the original inquest that August. He received only 45 minutes notice. He was working in the north and didn't make it back in time. So none of the Ludlows, nor their legal representatives, were present to ask questions or protest at the failure to present forensic or balistic evidence.

The family later discovered the murder weapon was a .38 Smith and Wesson, a standard issue to the UDR. "One of the bullets fired remains with gardai. The other two were sent north for forensic examination - theyv'e gone missing," says Sharkey.

"There is no record in RUC files of any search for the yellow car which we believe passed through several owners before ending up in the scrap yard." it wasn't until the mid-1990s that the family found out the full extent of the apparent cover-up.

"In 1977, the RUC identified three of the suspects," says Sharkey. "They gave a file with their names to gardai in 1979, but we were never informed of this. Until the 1990s, family members were still being told the IRA was responsible.

"We want to know why the RUC didn't give gardai the information in 1977. We want to know why, when they were told, the gardai didn't seek these men's extradition, or at least request the RUC arrest and interrogate them. Why did the RUC do nothing for two decades and why did the gardai let them?"

In 1998, the RUC did arrest and question four loyalists about the murder. One - an alleged informer who has been interrogated about several other murders including that of  former Sinn Fein vice-president, Maire Drumm - was flown over from England. He insists he is innocent.

Chief Supt. Ted Murphy headed an inquiry into the original gardai murder investigation. The family have never seen his 1998 report. Theyr'e also awaiting Mr Justice Henry Barron's private report into Seamus's murder, presented to the government last October.

"We were granted a new inquest three years ago and we're still only at the preliminaries," says Donegan. "I'd like to believe things are moving now, but I'm wary."

Sharkey agrees: "Our experience shows that while this state rightly makes demands from the British for northern Catholics, it's not too keen on justice and transparency for its own citizens."

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The Irish News, 26 April 2005: Inquest into 1976 murder set to begin

The Belfast Telegraph, 27 April 2005: Second inquest into 1976 Dundalk killing

The Argus (Dundalk), 6 May 2005: Seamus Ludlow Inquest

The Sunday Business Post, 8 May 2005: Coroner to re-examine 1976 murder

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Copyright 2005 the Ludlow family. All rights reserved.

Revised: August 04, 2005 .