Victim’s family can challenge non-prosecution decision in 1976 murder

The nephew of a murdered forestry worker has won High Court permission to challenge a decision not to prosecute British soldiers and loyalist paramilitaries identified as suspects.

Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 4:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 5:35 pm

Seamus Ludlow, 47, was shot dead as he returned home from a pub in Dundalk, Co Louth in May 1976.

With no-one ever charged over the killing, Mr Ludlow’s family maintain he was an innocent victim of a loyalist death squad made up of Red Hand Commando and UDR members.

In 1998 four named suspects were arrested and questioned by the RUC.

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Two of those men allegedly made confessions about their involvement in the murder along with the others.

Despite the RUC recommending their prosecution a decision was taken in 1999 not to bring charges, according to the family.

Mr Ludlow’s nephew, Thomas Fox, is seeking to judicially review the Director of Public Prosecutions over that decision.

Lawyers for Mr Fox claim his human rights have been breached, with further alleged unlawfulness surrounding failures to give sufficient reasons or carry out a review.

Ronan Lavery QC contended that the murder “must rank among the most shameful episodes in the (Irish) state”.

He told the court a smear campaign took place at the time to wrongly infer Mr Ludlow was killed for being an IRA informer, and that some family members had prior knowledge.

“All of it is completely untrue; that’s one aspect of activity in the south which can be characterised as wicked,” counsel said.

Judges also heard claims the RUC supplied their Irish counterparts with information on the four suspects in 1979.

But when the case was raised at Garda headquarters the alleged instructions were to take no further action because it could 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 submitted.

It was stressed, however, that the challenge centres on a determination reached by prosecution chiefs 20 years later.

Mr Lavery argued that “basic fairness” means the family should be given reasons for the decision.

“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, Lord 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 called for “a good explanation” on what has happened to the missing file.

Outside court Mr Fox’s solicitor, Gavin Booth, said: “My client is seeking reasons why, when two people confessed to being at the murder, there was no decision to prosecute them.”

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, who attended court to support the family, added: “This is an important first steps towards what will hopefully be justice.”