Belfast Telegraph

Seamus Ludlow 1976 murder 'is crying out for investigation', High Court told

Disturbing evidence that a murder probe was shelved in Ireland's national interest is crying out for an investigation, a court has been told.

A barrister has told Dublin's High Court that Seamus Ludlow, 47, shot dead in disputed circumstances in May 1976 as he was returning from a pub to his home in Mountpleasant, Dundalk, Co Louth, was killed amid a "dirty war".

Ronan Lavery QC questioned if justice was set aside because a policy was adopted at the highest levels in the Republic not to pursue the single forestry worker's suspected killers in Northern Ireland.

"The most disturbing aspect of this case is the evidence of a policy being in place, for whatever reason, that suspects would not be interviewed north of the border and the investigation would not be pursued because of some kind of perceived national interest at that time," he said.

"This was a dirty war, judge.

"The sectarian hatred moved south on that day in 1976. Mr Ludlow was the victim, but was it that the national interest so outweighed the right of the family to have a proper investigation into his murder?

"Was there a policy in place, and as a result of the policy, did that mean the family's right, [Mr Ludlow's] rights were expendable and justice could be dispensed with?"

The barrister added: "These are weighty matters and they are crying out for an investigation."

Mr Ludlow's nephew Thomas Fox has brought the family's four-decade fight against an alleged cover up to the High Court, seeking a declaration that the Irish government's failure to launch a State inquiry is unlawful.

A parliamentary committee in Dublin recommended more than 10 years ago that two commissions of investigation be held into the murder and its investigation.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary told the Garda in 1979 that it believed four named loyalists were involved in Mr Ludlow's killing, but the information was not pursued at the time.

Two suspects were serving members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, a unit of the British Army, which has fuelled suspicions of British state collusion.

The family say gardai also wrongly blamed the murder on the IRA and put it about that some family members had prior knowledge it was planned, sparking a decades-long rift among them.

Mr Lavery said the Justice Minister's decision not to hold an inquiry "second guesses" the parliamentary committee which investigated the case over a period of time and made "very strong recommendations".

But Conor Power SC, barrister for the Justice Minister, said a new inquiry would not establish anything more than was already revealed in a 2005 report by Judge Henry Barron into the killing as well as a 2007 investigation into Garda file handling in the Dublin/Monaghan bombings case.

"The premise that commissions of investigation would further the investigation of the crime, that is not necessarily the case - in fact, it not the case," he told Justice Mary Faherty.

"What further would come out?"

Mr Power said investigations in the Republic had been "exhausted in the circumstances".

"The suspects reside outside the jurisdiction," he said.

"Neither they nor the authorities of another sovereign state would be compellable before a commission of inquiry.

"The way things stand at the moment there would be no prosecution - both Directors of Public Prosecution, north and south, are resigned to that at this stage."

The barrister said the murder of Mr Ludlow was a callous sectarian murder.

"The (Justice) Minister and the Garda have previously apologised for the manner of the investigation that transpired, and they do so again in these proceedings," he said.

"It is also important to note that the Garda investigation into that murder is not closed.

"However, there must be some realism about the chance of securing even a prosecution at this stage and the family of Mr Ludlow themselves now accept that there will be no prosecution."

Mr Power said the identity of the four suspects has been in the public arena for some time.

Significant investigative steps taken by State agencies into the murder and investigation had helped establish this information, he argued.

"These steps were undertaken in good faith and were important steps leading to the knowledge we now have of the events of that terrible night," he said.

The barrister added: "These are all significant issues and, notwithstanding some of the more grandiose claims of a cover up, there has been a willingness to engage with the issue openly and publicly for many years."

Mr Power said the public cost of the inquiry would also be an issue, although he said it would not be the most important issue.

The case continues.

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