Court grants permission to challenge decision not to prosecute soldiers over killing of Seamus Ludlow

The nephew of Seamus Ludlow has won permission in the High Court in Belfast to challenge a decision not to prosecute British soldiers and loyalist identified as suspects in his murder.

The then 47 year old forestry worker was shot dead as he returned home from the Lisdoo to his home at Thistle Cross in May 1976.

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

In 1998 four named suspects were arrested and questioned by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. 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 sitting in Belfast yesterday that 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.

This was vehemently denied in court.

According to a report in The Irish Times, 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.