The decision not to interview four key suspects in the murder of a Dundalk forestry worker 30 years ago was probably political, a judge said today.
Seamus Ludlow (aged 47) was abducted by loyalist paramilitaries in Co Louth and shot dead on May 2, 1976, but gardaí never interviewed the suspects identified by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) 18 months later.
At the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Judge Henry Barron was asked if this decision had been taken because of the volatile situation at the time.
“I think the reality is that it was probably political,” he replied.
Committee member Senator Jim Walsh suggested that while he did not agree with it, one possibility was that the Government did not want the loyalist suspects interviewed because it might inflame republican sympathies.
In his report into Seamus Ludlow’s death, Judge Barron said it was most probable the decision not to carry out the interviews with the Northern Ireland-based suspects was made by former Garda Commissioner Laurence Wren, then head of the Garda C3 security section.
The two Garda detectives who received the information from the RUC in 1979 never received authorisation from C3 to travel across the border again to follow it up, despite the fact that two of the suspects were in prison and readily available for interview.
Judge Barron told the committee he stood over his report’s conclusion, despite strong denials from Mr Wren that he had any involvement in the decision.
“It must have been made by the most senior member and that was Mr Wren,” he said.
Labour TD Joe Costello said that, in his opinion, this failure to interview the key suspects meant there had never been a proper murder investigation by the gardaí.
The four suspects named in Judge Barron’s report – Paul Hosking, James Fitzsimmons, Richard Long and Samuel Carroll – were arrested in the North in 1998, but the DPP there decided not to prosecute them because of insufficient evidence.
Judge Barron said he would have liked to have seen the RUC files on the Ludlow murder while compiling his report, but this was not possible because he got no co-operation from the British authorities.
Independent TD Finian McGrath asked him if there were any other avenues for the committee to investigate.
“It’s an awful long time ago. That’s the problem. Everything seems to suggest that four men were in public bars in the state (on the night of Ludlow’s murder). At the time, if photographs were shown to people, they might have identified them,” said Judge Barron.
The family of Seamus Ludlow, who have travelled from Dundalk to attend each committee hearing, are calling for a full public inquiry into his murder.
They are set to give a public statement through their solicitor, James McGuill, at the final committee hearing next week.
Judge Barron’s fourth and final report into bombings in Dundalk in the 1970s is within a week of completion, but its publication may be delayed to see if the names of those allegedly responsible can be included.