Forty-seven year old Séamus Ludlow, a quiet, unassuming life-long bachelor, was something of a man of habit. On the afternoon of Saturday the 1st of May 1976, he left his place of work, a timbers’ merchants in Ravensdale, County Louth, where he was employed with his brother-in-law, Tommy Fox, and headed for the family home at Thistlecross, just outside of the small town of Dundalk. He lived there with his widowed mother, Annie, his sister Nan and her husband John Sharkey. As was his custom of a weekend, following a quick lunch, a wash and a change of clothes, Séamus set out to meet up with some friends for a few pints and the odd game of darts in a local pub. The day was warm and acquaintances later reported that the forestry worker was in good form, happy that his strenuous week was over and that he could sit back and relax. Just after 11.30 pm he decided to leave the Lisdoo Arms public house and was last seen just before midnight thumbing a lift on a stretch of the Newry Road.
On Sunday morning, around 11.30 am, the middle-aged man’s family contacted the Garda Síochána, concerned that he had uncharacteristically failed to return from his night out. Search parties were organised by relatives and friends, led by the local gardaí, though many believed that Séamus was sleeping off excess drink in a friend’s house. Around 3.00 pm, near the Ballymascanlon House Hotel and less than two kilometres from Thistlecross, two walkers came across the body of a man lying face down in a ditch. Alerted by a phone call, the gardaí arrived some ten minutes later and were horrified to find a corpse with clear signs of violence.
Within an hour or two Kevin Ludlow, the brother of Séamus, along with brothers-in-law Tommy and John, arrived on the scene and made a positive identification. The Garda Síochána launched an immediate murder investigation, the story making national news headlines across the country. However the grief-stricken relatives were shocked by the hostility shown towards them by Special Branch detectives visiting the area from Dublin and Dundalk. Far from pursuing the case in a professional manner the officers spent much of their time interrogating the Ludlow, Sharkey and Fox families. Several of Séamus’ siblings and in-laws endured aggressive questioning by the murder squad investigators, aggravating their trauma.
Four weeks later the investigation was halted. The Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, under the control of the authoritarian 1973-77 coalition government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party, refused to provide any reasons for the case being shelved. The victim’s relatives were dismayed, especially when previously friendly local gardaí began to ignore their pleas for help. A coroner’s report judged that Séamus Ludlow had died after being shot three times at point-blank-range, while in a seated position, suffering wounds to the lungs, liver and the heart. The killing had almost certainly taken place in the back of a car on the night of May the 1st-2nd 1976. Eventually the Garda Síochána began to leak a concocted story to the press claiming that Séamus had been seized and executed by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army on the charge of being an “informer”. These allegations were greeted with incredulity by those who knew the slain man, who was largely apolitical despite his local membership of the conservative Fine Gael party. This sentiment was heightened by the furious rejection of the claims by (P)IRA activists in the Louth region.
In fact from almost the beginning, the Gardaí knew that (P)IRA had no involvement in the events that led to the violent death of Séamus. Within weeks of the murder the evidence gathered by the investigating detectives indicated that the killers were British terrorists from across the “border”, and by 1979 they knew beyond all shadow of doubt that four unionist extremists from the Dundonald area of County Down were the perpetrators of the crime. This was in part due to information passed on to them by sympathetic members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or RUC, the United Kingdom’s paramilitary police force in the north-east of the country.
All four suspects were associates of the North Down Volunteers, a lose body which brought together members of various pro-UK terror factions and the British Forces in the region. Three of the men were part of the Red Hand Commando (RHC), a gang with close ties to Britain’s military intelligence corps, while the fourth was a former member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a then legal terrorist grouping in the United Kingdom. Additionally, two of the three RHC gunmen were also serving soldiers with the Ulster Defence Regiment (URD), a British Army counterinsurgency militia, while at least one was an agent for the Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU), a controversial and chameleon-like British Army unit.
For the then “partitionist” Fine Gael – Labour coalition, which was focused on pursuing a vigorous campaign against (P)IRA through the use of draconian anti-insurgency legislation, as well as seeking closer relations between Dublin and London, the murder of an Irish citizen by pro-UK extremists could not have come at a worse time. Just three days after Séamus Ludlow’s death, eight troopers of the Special Air Service or SAS, a British special forces unit, had been captured by Gardaí and soldiers of the Defence Forces in a series of armed confrontations in nearby Omeath, also in County Louth. Subsequent investigations by the Garda Síochána, local politicians, human rights’ groups and the press revealed that the SAS had been carrying out numerous covert cross-border raids in the months leading up to the killing of Séamus, resulting in several abductions and assassinations of suspected volunteers of (P)IRA, some of which were blamed on militant unionist gangs. The leaderships of the coalition and the Garda Síochána, whose rogue Special Branch unit was itself mired in allegations of illegal detentions and beatings of suspects, seemingly took the decision that détente between Ireland and Britain was more important than the life – or reputation – of one Irish citizen.
What followed in 1976-77 was a cover-up of a crime by the counterinsurgency proxies of the United Kingdom in Ireland, a cover-up which was authorised at the highest levels of the Irish political, policing and judicial establishments.
In 2005 an investigation by an Irish judge, Justice Barron, named the suspects in the Séamus Ludlow killing as James Reid Fitzsimmons (a UDR soldier and RHC gunman), William Richard Long (a UDR soldier and RHC gunman), Samuel Black “Mambo” Carroll (an RHC gunman and North Down Volunteer associate) and Paul Hosking (North Down Volunteers and formerly with the UDA). Carroll, a known psychopath, was the individual who carried out the actual murder of the forestry worker, using a snub-nosed Smith and Wesson revolver. He is now resident in the United Kingdom, a seemingly protected individual, linked by numerous press reports to Britain’s intelligence services.