(by Ed Moloney, Sunday Tribune)
April 15, 2001
The family of Seamus Ludlow, the Co Louth man shot dead in controversial and possibly sinister circumstances by Loyalists twenty-five years ago, have asked the North's Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan to investigate the RUC's handling of the investigation into his death.
Ludlow, a 47 year old forestry worker who lived on the Northern outskirts of Dundalk, was found shot and dumped in a laneway near his home in May 1976 in circumstances that remained unclear for 23 years. At the time the Garda blamed the IRA but it is now known that members of the Loyalist Red Hand Commando, two of them UDR soldiers, picked him up in a car and then shot him.
The case has aroused controversy for a number of reasons. The Gardai were told by the RUC who had killed Ludlow in 1979 yet for many years afterwards the Special Branch continued to insist that the IRA had killed him and that a member of his family had betrayed him. The Ludlow's were divided for over twenty years with each part of the family believing that a member of the other part had been responsible for the killing.
It also emerged that the RUC Special Branch knew all about the killing and at one stage told one of the four men who was in the car on the night of the killing to forget about the case as it was "political". Until recently there was never any serious attempt to question or pursue the Red Hand Commando members involved in the killing depite apparent evidence that the authorities on both sides of the Border knew who the culprits were.
Doubt has centred on the role of the man, known as 'Mambo' who actually shot Seamus Ludlow that night. The circumstances of the killing and its aftermath have fuelled suspicion that 'Mambo' may have been a British agent and that the behaviour of the authorities, including dividing and weakening the Ludlow family, is consistent with an attempt to cover up his activities. If this is true then it raises serious questions about the role of the Garda Special Branch in Dundalk and the Garda leadership in Dublin in the mid-1970's.
In an attempt to meet growing protests from the Ludlow family the government appointed a former Supreme Court judge to head a private inquiry into the killing, along with the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. Initially Mr Justice Hamilton was given the task but when he retired on health grounds Mr Justice Barron took over.
The Ludlow family have withheld their approval for the private inquiry arguing instead that their case is similar to that of Pat Finucane, the Belfast solicitor killed by Loyalists amid allegations of security force collusion and should be treated similarily. Since the government supports the campaign for a public judicial inquiry into Finucane, the Ludlow's say they are also entitled to one.
The approach to the North's Police Ombudsman comes in the wake of remarks by the RUC Chief Constable's office that could mean that an agent was involved in the affair. In a July 2000 letter to an American supporter of the family the Chief Constable's office wrote: "I can inform you it is not force policy to comment on matters pertaining to "Agents". Police reports to the DPP are confidential documents as are forensic/ballistic reports."
The letter to Nuala O'Loan from the Ludlow family solicitor states: "Our clients are anxious that you would use your powers to investigate the role of the RUC in relation to the investigation of this murder. Our client's primary concern is that the guilty parties were identified at an early date but that no effective steps were taken to secure a prosecution.
"Of primary concern therefore to our clients is to establish what was known to the police authorities and when it was known. On a second level they would be anxious to know what information was communicated by the RUC to their colleagues in An Garda Siochana and when that was communicated."