State calls 1976 murder of Louth man a ‘callous sectarian murder’

Family of Seamus Ludlow are seeking commissions of inquiry into the unsolved murder

The murder of a Co Louth forestry worker more than 40 years ago was a "callous sectarian murder", lawyers for the State have told the High Court.

The Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner previously apologised to the family of Seamus Ludlow over the conduct of the Garda investigation in to his murder and the State repeated that apology before the court, Conor Power SC said.

However, the State was opposing the family’s proceedings aimed at having the court direct the establishment of commissions of inquiry into the murder, he said. The murder investigation remains open, commissions of inquiry could have no role in that investigation and the State considered such commissions would not progress the matter.

He was making arguments opposing the action by Thomas Fox, a nephew of Mr Ludlow, aimed at establishing two commissions of inquiry into the murder, as recommended by a 2006 Oireachtas Joint Committee based on findings of retired High Court judge Henry Barron in his report into the murder of Mr Ludlow.


Bullet wounds

Mr Ludlow's body was found with bullet wounds on May 1st, 1976, in a lane near his home at Culfore, Dundalk. He had no paramilitary connections and no one has ever been charged in connection with his murder.

His family say gardaí­ failed to pursue an important line of inquiry – that Mr Ludlow was a victim of either loyalist or British forces who mistook him for a senior member of the IRA. They believe he was an innocent victim of a loyalist death squad comprising a Red Hand Commando and two members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

The Garda investigation into the murder was suspended after just three weeks without explanation, the family claim. They also allege gardaí spread unfounded claims he was killed by the IRA for informing and they, the family, had known about the planned killing beforehand. The IRA denied any involvement.

The court heard a number of suspects had been identified by the RUC but the Directors of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland and the Republic both recommended no prosecutions be brought.

On Wednesday, Ronan Lavery QC, for the family, told Ms Justice Mary Faherty the "most disturbing" aspect of this case was evidence of a policy being in place, for whatever reason, that suspects for this murder would not be interviewed North of the Border. An investigation was not pursued because of "some perceived national interest at that time".

“This was a dirty war, the sectarian hatred moved South on that day in 1976 and Mr Ludlow was a victim,” he said. “What is the national interest that so outweighs the family’s right to a proper investigation into the murder? These are weighty matters crying out for investigation.”

‘Historical truth’

Mr Power, for the State, said this application was for commissions of inquiry that do not directly concern the murder and its investigation.

While the State is obliged under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to carry out an effective investigation, article 2 does not require a conviction be achieved and is not concerned with “historical truth” and the commissions sought did not match the obligation under article 2, counsel said.

Mr Power argued the State has taken steps in this matter. While the family were not properly informed of the first coroner’s inquest, there was a second inquest in 2005 and the State paid the family’s legal costs arising from that, he said.

That was followed by an independent commission of inquiry culminating in the Barron report of 2006, which named four persons as the suspected perpetrators of this terrible crime. Their names had been in the public arena for some time, counsel said.

Mr Justice Barron gave evidence to the Joint Committee and considered he had sufficient co-operation from State authorities here to produce his report and the absence of statutory powers of compellability was not a significant factor, counsel said.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times