Step forward for Ludlow family

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The family of a murdered County Louth man has won the right to challenge a decision not to prosecute British soldiers and loyalist paramilitaries identified as suspects.

Seamus Ludlow, a forestry worker, was shot dead as he returned home from a pub in Dundalk, County Louth in May 1976. His body was thrown into a ditch near his home.

In 1979 the RUC police in the North (now PSNI) identified four suspects it believed were responsible for the killing. Nineteen years later, in February 1998, the four were finally arrested.

Two confessed to killing Seamus Ludlow during interviews with the police, but incredibly, they were released without charge.

The North’s then Director of Public Prosecutions decided in October 1998 not to prosecute the four. Among the four men were two serving officers in the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment.

The Gardai police in the South never interviewed the four men and never told the family. The first the family heard of the four suspects was in a newspaper report.

Ronan Lavery QC described the murder as “among the most shameful episodes in the state”.

He told the High Court in Belfast that a smear campaign took place at the time to wrongly infer Mr Ludlow was killed by the IRA.

He noted claims the Gardai decided to take no further action because it could have lead to requests for the extradition of IRA suspects in return.

“What we seem to have here is an implied or express agreement, it’s almost collusion between the two states to keep this matter covered up,” Mr Lavery said. He argued that “basic fairness” means the family should be given reasons for the decision not to prosecute.

“Two people admit to being in a car which goes across the border to murder somebody, the two of them draw maps of the scene where it took place and nobody is prosecuted,” he added.

During the hearing it emerged that the prosecution file has gone missing in the intervening years.

Granting leave to seek a judicial review, Justice Treacy ruled that an arguable case was established on all grounds of challenge.

With a full hearing due to take place later in the year, the judge also called for “a good explanation” on what has happened to the missing file.

Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy, who attended court to support the family, said “important first steps” had been taken “towards what will hopefully be justice.”

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