The High Court in Dublin this week has been the scene of what may be a last-ditch attempt by the family of 47-year-old Co Louth forestry worker Seamus Ludlow to discover why Garda detectives suddenly dropped their investigation into his May 1976 murder near his home on the outskirts of Dundalk.
An Oireachtas Joint House Committee which held hearings on the circumstances of Mr Ludlow’s killing in 2006 and also based their findings on a report compiled by retired High Court judge, Henry Barron, recommended that two commissions of inquiry be established by the government. But this was never done.
At the heart of the affair are allegations of a double cover up, one by the then RUC in the North and the other by the Gardai who not only allegedly dropped their investigation of Mr Ludlow’s death within weeks of it happening but also wrongly accused the IRA of responsibility and suggested members of Mr Ludlow’s family may have known about the killing.
Back in March 1998 this reporter published the first full account of the events surrounding Mr Ludlow’s death in The Sunday Tribune newspaper (see below for full text). It was based on the recollection of Paul Hosking, a 41-year old Protestant from Newtownards, Co Down who was an eye-witness to the killing and who said he reported what he had seen to the RUC in 1987, eleven years before his story became public.
Hosking, who had once been a low-level member of the UDA, said he had been caught up by chance in the Ludlow killing after he had joined three other men for a heavy drinking session in nearby Comber on the Saturday of the FA Cup final. That had ended with the men driving across the Border in search of suspected IRA road checks on Border roads.
Two of the men were soldiers in the Ulster Defence Regiment as well as being members of the UVF-linked Red Hand Commandos, as was the leader of the group, the man who actually shot Seamus Ludlow.
After searching fruitlessly in Dundalk for a local IRA man, the men saw Seamus Ludlow making his way home from a local pub, offered him a lift and then drove him to the isolated laneway where the Red Hand Commando leader shot him dead with a pistol, after which his body was tossed over a hedgerow.
The fact that the Gardai effectively abandoned the inquiry into Ludlow’s death so quickly after the event, and then attempted to shift blame onto the IRA has – along with the RUC’s inactivity – fueled suspicion that an official effort was underway to protect someone in the killers’ car because of their possible link to British security forces.
If so, the favourite candidate would seem to be the Red Hand Commando leader who allegedly pulled the trigger that night. Nicknamed ‘Mambo’, he left Northern Ireland not longer after the Ludlow killing and has been living in England, largely untouched by the authorities, ever since.
The need to protect ‘Mambo’, and the suspicion that he may have been on the books of British intelligence, may explain why the Irish government has been so reluctant to accept the advice of both Judge Barron and the joint Oireachtas committee and set up committees of inquiry to probe the Garda handling of the Ludlow investigation.
Should the suspicions prove to be well-founded the Gardai will be in the dock, accused of covering up the murder of an Irish citizen at the behest of the British authorities to protect a British spy. It can hardly get more serious than that.
Sunday Tribune, March 15th, 1998
By Ed Moloney
The RUC Special Branch has been accused of having covered up, for at least the last eleven years, evidence showing that members of the North’s security forces were part of a Loyalist gang which crossed the Border and killed a Dundalk, Co Louth man, the Sunday Tribune has learned.Seamus Ludlow, a 47 year old forestry worker, was found shot dead in an isolated laneway two miles north of Dundalk in May, 1976 and his killing became one of the unsolved mysteries of the Troubles.
However the story of how the authorities concealed the politically sensitive circumstances of his death has now come to light thanks to the man who gave RUC Special Branch officers a full account of the killing over a decade ago.
Paul Hosking (41), from Newtownards, Co Down started the day of Seamus Ludlow’s death drinking with UDR soldiers who were also members of the Loyalist Red Hand Commandos and ended it witnessing the casual and opportunistic murder of the Dundalk man. He was later threatened with death by the Red Hand Commandos if he spoke to the authorities.
Two weeks ago he and the three former Red Hand Commando members were arrested and questioned about the killing by RUC detectives. One was arrested in England. They were released without being charged but a report on each was sent to the North’s Director of Public Prosecutions who will decide whether to take action against the men.
In interviews with the Sunday Tribune, Hosking both protests his innocence and expresses anger at being arrested after having told the Special Branch everything he saw on the day of the Ludlow murder. He has named the Special Branch officer who met him to discuss the details of the killing to detectives in Castlereagh interrogation centre and made a written statement alleging that he gave the Branch a full account of the part played by the killers.
Hosking’s 1987 statement to the RUC Special Branch technically amounted to an admission that he had withheld evidence during the ten years following the killing yet the Special Branch apparently chose not to take any action against him nor the three men he had named as responsible for the killing.At the end of his encounter with the Special Branch, Hosking asked what happened next. “(The officer) said ‘Forget it. Its political’ “, he recalls.
Paul Hosking, then a 19 year old factory worker, invariably spent Saturdays getting drunk in his local, the First and Last pub in Comber. On Saturday May 1st, 1976 he headed down as usual only to find a virtually empty bar. Most of Comber had headed for Glasgow to watch Rangers play in the Scottish cup final but Hoskings was broke and couldn’t go.
So he found himself alone in the bar with a couple of friends and three men who had started coming to the pub three or months before. One was a Captain in the UDR, another who Hosking was told was also an officer in the regiment and a third man from Bangor whose nickname was ‘Mambo’. Hosking was never clear whether ‘Mambo’ was also a UDR man.
Hosking remembers that the UDR men were armed. “They had a big bulge under the arm”, he remembers. (The Sunday Tribune has been furnished with the men’s names but has decided for legal reasons not to publish them.)
Hosking had got to know the men over the preceding weeks and had occasionally drank with them and discussed life in the UDR. The three were also rumoured to be Loyalists, linked to the Red Hand Commando, an offshoot of the UVF. But in Comber as in other Protestant areas that would not raise an eyebrow; overlapping membership of Loyalist paramilitaries and the UDR was common enough. That Saturday the deserted pub drove them together for company.
The UDR Captain suggested that they move on, to see if there was any action elsewhere. They drove in the second UDR man’s car, a two door yellow Datsun, Hosking in the rear passenger side seat, the UDR Captain beside him and ‘Mambo’ in the front passenger seat. They were to keep that formation for the rest of that fateful day.
They tried a pub in Killyleagh first on the shores of Strangford lough but that too was quiet. Then the UDR Captain had an idea. Hosking recalls: “—- —- mentioned that there were supposed to be IRA checks along the Border. It was information obviously from the UDR that they were doing something on the Border. He said do you fancy going down to spy on them? I said great, it was like an adventure.”
It was the first time Hosking had ever been near or across the Border and he was looking forward to a Southern pint of Guinness. He had no idea where they were driving but remembers they did go through a British Army permanent checkpoint at which the driver showed his UDR pass.
“I remember him laughing and saying it was so good to have a UDR pass”, recalls Hosking. They were waved through, headed for Omeath and made for a pub.
Hosking’s memory is that the four of them spent about an hour in the bar. He sat away from the others watching television highlights of that day’s English FA Cup Final between Southampton and Manchester Utd. The three Red Hand Commandos were on the other side of the bar talking amongst themselves.
Some time after closing time the four left the bar. Hosking was quite drunk by that time. He reckons he had consumed about 13 or 14 pints over the whole day. “That used to be my Saturday thing”, he said.
Instead of heading North, the UDR driver steered his vehicle southwards towards Dundalk and the fateful encounter with Seamus Ludlow.
Now married with two children and living in Newtownards not far from his native Comber, Hosking takes up the story: “I saw a sign saying Dundalk, that’s how I knew we’d been there. I remember this guy walking along, he was thumbing actually.We stopped and your man got in. He was drunk. He got in between us in the back. I remember giving him a hand in.”
Seamus Ludlow had spent the evening drinking at various bars. He had just left the Lisdoo Arms and was looking for a lift to his home at Thistlecross about two miles northwards.
“The next thing I can remember”, Hosking continues, “he wasn’t long in the car really, I remember the house and the road in that direction and I remember the guy saying I live over here. I don’t know who it was said he needed to use the toilet. I was bursting anyway, the pints were going through me.
“We went on down anyway and I remember him reversing up a wee lane. ‘Mambo’ got out and pulled the seat back and I got out, I went over to the hedge near the front of the car. I was standing having a pee and the next I heard was banging. I swung round and there was this guy ‘Mambo’ sort of half in the car and he was shooting in the car.
“All I remember then is your man ‘Mambo’ pulling him out and —- was pushing him out. The guy fell on the floor so they got out and picked him up and threw him on to a hedge, I think it was. Then your man shouted get in. I was standing there shocked, I was horrified. My first thought was that they were going to do the same to me because I had seen what they had done. I was horrified. I got in the back and the whole way back I just stared out of the window.”
The inquest was told that his body was found the next day by tourists from the North in a lonely lane about a mile from Seamus Ludlow’s home. It was lying on a hedge. He’d been shot with three bullets all fired at close range and from his front, left. The fatal wound was to his heart. The State Pathologist John Harbinson speculated that Seamus Ludlow had been shot elsehere because his shoes were remarkably clean for being in a muddy lane.
By all accounts Seamus Ludlow was a shy, inoffensive man. At 47 he was a confirmed bachelor who, like so many other Irish family situations, lived with his eighty year old mother. If his death was to be covered up by the authorities he was in many ways an ideal candidate. He had no wife or children to grieve him or cause a fuss and he was poor. He chopped wood in the Ravensdale forest for a living.
Seamus Ludlow’s family have however campaigned for the truth about his death but to no avail. Appeals to the Gardai to re-open the case have fallen on deaf ears while theories have abounded, including one that SAS men were responsible. Despite Garda claims to the contrary the IRA denied any responsibility very shortly after the killing.
The Gardai have told the family not to speak to the press about recent developments and the Ludlow family have, duly, declined to make any comment saying this is the advice they have been given. However the dead man’s brother, Kevin added: “The family will be watching events with great interest”.
After the killing, the yellow Datsun sped nortwards dropping Hosking and the UDR Captain off at Killyleagh. The UDR Captain then drove Hosking home to Comber. Hosking remembers a veiled threat from ‘Mambo’ on the drive home, a remark that if he could get away with it he could kill a Protestant too.
Two days later the UDR Captain approached Hosking and warned him that unless he joined the Red Hand Commandos he would be killed because of what he had seen. He said that he had consulted the Red Hand commander, the late John McKeague about him. By now thoroughly frightened Hosking asked the UDA to intervene. Like hundreds of his contemporaries he had been a low level member of the UDA in Comber and set up barricades there during the 1974 UWC strike. That was the last he heard of the Ludlow murder until eleven years later.
He never went to the police, he says, because he was “petrified”. “If they could do that they were capable of wiping me out or my family”. Two years after the killing he went to Scotland and got married. But the marriage broke up and in 1986 he returned to Comber. He was at a family funeral when an RUC relative told him that the Special Branch wanted to see him about “something serious”.
He agreed to meet the RUC and a pub in Newtownards was chosen as the venue with his RUC relative as a witness. Hosking recalls that the Special Branch man, whose name is known to the Sunday Tribune, “seemed to know all the story”. He thinks the meeting took place in January or February 1987.
He went on:”That’s where I met the Special Branch man, he introduced himself. ——- went away to the bar to get a drink and your man said that he knew I had been there, he knew I hadn’t been involved but he wanted to know my story. I said OK and I told him the story from start to finish. At the end I said what happens now and he said ‘Forget it, its political’.
“I was relieved it had come out but sort of disillusioned that that was it, after all those years just to let it go”.
Three weeks ago Hosking came off the night shift to find scores of policemen at his home. He was arrested and held for four days. He says his first remarks to the CID were: “Why are you coming to me now? I told the Special Branch this…and you’re looking for me now”. He says he told the CID the full story of the day Seamus Ludlow was killed.
A range of questions arise from this affair, not least about why the RUC Special Branch chose to sit on Hosking’s evidence. One possible reason is that the police were acting to protect an informer amongst the three Red Hand Commandos who killed Seamus Ludlow.
If that was the case then once again the focus will be on the issue of Special Branch morality, specifically whether the authorities in the North turn a blind eye to intelligence agents being involved in serious crimes including murder. If there was an informer amongst the gang then it is also possible that the cover-up was longer than eleven years and that the RUC knew all about the murder just after it was committed, twenty two years ago. And just who was the informer? Could it have been the trigger man?
Hosking also spoke to the RUC Special Branch at a politically sensitive time. In early 1987 the Anglo-Irish Agreement was not long in existence but it had helped put the future of the UDR on the political agenda. A revelation at that time that a Loyalist paramilitary cell had been able to inflitrate the UDR to a high level – the leader of the gang was a full time Captain in the force – and had committed murder in the Republic would have given critics of the regiment valuable ammunition.
There also serious questions about how much the Gardai knew. Did the RUC fail to tell their counterparts in the Republic what they knew of a murder carried out in the Gardai’s jurisdiction or were they given all the available information? For the past twenty-two years the Gardai have told the Ludlow family that their brother and uncle was killed by the Provisional IRA, an assertion that now turns out to be as far from the truth as it is possible to be.
The two police forces were saying little about the affair this weekend, only that the investigation was still ongoing and that there had been the usual liaison between them.
Two other questions from the Ludlow murder demand answering above others. Paul Hosking looks like he could face a charge of witholding information about the murder. If the authorities deem him culpable enough to face such a charge where does this leave the RUC Special Branch?
And the other is this: just when will the Ludlow family be told the full truth about Seamus Ludlow’s death and the subsequent cover-up?