An inquest into the death of a County Louth man shot dead by a unionist paramilitary/British Army murder gang has been told that the 26-County Gardai police knew the identity of his killers within 18 months, but never sought their extradition.

Seamus Ludlow, a 47 year old forestry worker, was shot and dumped in a laneway near his home in North Louth in May 1976.

When Mr Ludlow was shot the Gardai blamed the Provisional IRA. However, retired Garda Detective Inspector John Courtney told the inquest that the IRA had been eliminated as suspects within two or three months.

For years the Gardai led the family and the public to believe the IRA had killed him, and did not dispel false allegations that Mr Ludlow had worked as a police informer.

Mr Courtney also revealed that on while on a visit to Belfast on a separate investigation, sources in the then RUC police in the North had given him details of the shooting, including the names and addresses of those involved.

He said he was amazed no action was ever taken as he had written a report and passed it on to his superiors.

His family, who campaigned for this inquest, the second into the death, have always believed he was hitching a lift home the previous night when he was picked up by the murder gang, comprising members of the paramilitary UDA and the British Army.

Mr Courtney said the information he had obtained was passed on to C3, the section in Garda headquarters that dealt with the conflict.

“I heard no more about it afterwards. I made inquiries and was told nothing was being done about it and that was that,” he said.

Less than a month later he followed up on it as he wanted to interview the suspects but needed “authority and I didn’t get any authority to do it”.

He was told by a garda in C3 that the “man in charge would not do anything about it”. There was no explanation given to him, he said.

Cross-examined by Deirdre Murphy, for the Ludlow family, whether he got some explanation from headquarters, Mr Courtney said: “I suppose they sat on it in headquarters. I was anxious to interview them. I couldn’t do it without authority and I didn’t get any authority to do it.”

Asked how often he looked for the authority, he replied, “once, it might have been a month or three weeks after it. I put every effort into solving the murder”.

In reply to a question from one of the jurors, made through the coroner, Ronan Maguire, the witness said the RUC gave him, “the names, addresses and circumstances of the murder”, but not the location.

He was told Mr Ludlow, “was walking out the road home and was picked up. It was late at night”.

The postmortem revealed he had been shot three times, and his body dumped in a laneway.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News