Hilda Murrell; Victim of a privatisation that went wrong?.
CALL me a "conspiracy theorist" if you like, but I have never felt comfortable with the official explanation of the death of Hilda Murrell. Too many gaps unexplained, too many connections unexplored. The body of this 78-year old retired rose grower turned environmental and anti-nuclear campaigner was found in a woodland copse about five miles from her Shrewsbury home, in March 1984.
Since retiring from the family rose growing business Hilda had continued botanical studies, taken up conservation issues, and found time for walking and hobbies, but she also became seriously involved in campaigning both against nuclear weapons and the dangers of nuclear power. At the time of her death she had been due to present her paper "An Ordinary Citizen's View of Radioactive Waste Management" at the Sizewell B Inquiry, the first public planning inquiry into a new British nuclear power plant.
On March 21, 1984, her home was apparently burgled, but only a small amount of cash was taken. Witnesses saw her car, a white Renault 5, being driven through the town, and what looked like her being held in the passenger seat. A farmer reported the car abandoned in a country lane, but it was not till three days later that West Mercia police found the mutilated body. Hilda had been beaten and stabbed multiple times, but died from hypothermia.
There was a lot of speculation about what had happened, and who might have killed Hilda Murrell. Activists and people who had known her tried to hold their own investigation. But in 2005 a burglar called Andrew George was found guilty and jailed for life for her murder. George had been just 16 at the time, and in care at a children's home nearby. The story was supposed to be that he broke in to rob Hilda's cottage, was surprised by her returning home unexpectedly, and panicked.
Why he did not just knock the old lady down, grab what he could, and run, as most burglars would, remained unexplained. Instead, having only taken some petty cash, the youth - who could not drive - had apparently gone to the trouble of dragging his victim out to her car, driving through town and past the police station in broad daylight, and then having abandoned the car, dragged Hilda's body across muddy ploughed fields for a mile before he dumped it.
Another odd piece of evidence comes from the owner of the copse where the body was discovered. The day after the murder, Captain Ian Scott visited the copse to count his trees and check for those that needed felling. Despite visiting the exact spot where her body was found, Captain Scott somehow missed it. Yet photographs clearly show the body being visible from a distance. Was he really just looking at tree tops, as the police suggest? I'd have thought not looking at the ground in front of you was a good way of walking into a tree or tripping over a stump!
Besides, the captain had his dog with him, and they are not noted for ignoring live or dead bodies on the ground. The alternative explanation could be that they did not stumble over the body that day because Hilda's body was still somewhere else.
Could she have been abducted and tortured, and not by a 16-year old amateur villain as claimed?
Telling evidence against Andrew George was that his DNA matched samples taken from the scene, but a book by Hilda's nephew, Commander Robert Green reveals a previously undisclosed witness statement made by a forensic scientist in the case, Michael Appleby, indicating that he found DNA from another man under Hilda Murrell's fingernails. Green says this information was withheld from the trial jury.Just two days before Hilda Murrell's home was broken into, and she was killed, maverick Labour MP Tam Dalyell had begun asking questions in parliament about the movements of the Argentine ship General Belgrano, torpedoed with heavy loss of life by the hunter-killer submarine HMS Conqueror, on May 2, 1982. The Belgrano had been outside the British government's Falkland "exclusion zone", and Dalyell suggested it was steaming away when it was sunk.
Commander Robert Green had been stationed at Northwood command centre during the Malvinas war, and resigned at the end of 1982. This led to allegations that he leaked intelligence to Dalyell that the Belgrano had been attacked while steaming away from the Falklands, a revelation that undermined the Thatcher government's claim that the ship had presented a threat.
So besides her campaigning on nuclear waste and other issues, Hilda Murrell would likely have become of interest to the security services for a second, and perhaps bigger reason - her connection to her nephew. Although there may have been no evidence to link her with the Belgrano issue, could the spooks at MI5 have got it into their heads that there might be sensitive documents in her possession?
Tam Dalyell, continuing to press the government, asked whether the intelligence services had something to do with Hilda Murrell's death. The issue continued to be raised. In 1994, the West Mercia police said their officers had been given access to secret service, military and nuclear industry files and "had found no links to Hilda Murrell". To which doubters said "they wouldn't, would they?"
West Mercia police were said to have interviewed 3,600 witnesses, yet when former private eye Gary Murray began looking into the Murrell case he found the police had somehow missed a
young couple, Catriona Guthrie and her boyfriend 'Malcolm' , who had befriended Hilda, and attended meetings of the Shrewsbury Peace Group with her. By a coincidence, 'Malcolm' was the son of a senior Signals Intelligence Officer employed by the Ministry of Defence who could also have seen communications between the Falklands and GCHQ. If the police were not interested in this connection, it is unlikely to have missed the attention of the intelligence services.
After breaking up with 'Malcolm', Catriona moved to Lincoln and became a prison visitor. It was from one of the prison inmates that she heard about a cellmate who claimed to have been one of a group that broke into Hilda Murrell's cottage with orders to search for naval intelligence papers. They were allegdly reporting back to someone in MI5.
(Gary Murray, Enemies of the State, 1993, and Lobster magazine issue 28).
We also know that objectors to the Sizewell B project were being investigated by a detective agency called Zeus Securities, under contract to Westinghouse. Zeus, formed and run by former intelligence officers, and chaired by Lord Chalfont, sub-contracted the work to Sapphire Investigation Bureau, run by Barrie Peachman. He employed a character called Vic Norris, with a rather unsavoury criminal record, who despite links with the far Right and satanism, claimed to have successfully infiltrated anti-Sizewell protestors, setting up dummy groups and affecting sympathies with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. At one point Norris wrote to Sapphire he "could put a stop on CND if required."
So the task of spying on Hilda Murrell, and especially of breaking into her home, could have been passed down the food chain from peers to perverts and pond life. Barrie Peachman himself took a shotgun to his mouth and killed himself, after saying unspecified enemies were "out to get me", three weeks after Hilda Murrell was killed.
Could the murder of Hilda Murrell then have resulted not from an ordinary "burglary that went wrong", as we're supposed to believe, but of a security service operation that went too far having been put out to private contract, and low-grade operatives?
Lawyer Michael Mansfield QC wants the Murrell case reopened. He says claims by the police and intelligence services that Hilda Murrell was not under their gaze are "completely ludicrous". "There must have been a file for a number of reasons. One of them being that she plainly was very active and very outspoken about a government policy that was extremely sensitive at that time – nuclear power.
"It was central to Margaret Thatcher's thinking. They would have been watching closely what she was up to, who she was associating with and so on. The victim was consumed with anxiety that something was going to happen to her. A look at why that might be involves the evidence she was about to give to the Sizewell inquiry."Mansfield, best known as lawyer for Stephen Lawrence's parents, has decided to raise the Murrell issue after publication of a book by Hilda's nephew Robert Green, who now lives in New Zealand. "They [the security services] must have noticed his connection with her. Therefore they might have thought that she possessed information of a sensitive nature," said Mansfield.
Green is coming to London this week to share evidence collected for his book, A Thorn in Their Side, published last Autumn in New Zealand. Green says that even there he has been the subject of continuing surveillance and that the tyres of his car have been slashed, his mail intercepted and, occasionally, his house broken into.
Of course that can all be put down to paranoia, like the claims that trade unionists in this country have been blacklisted and prevented from working by private companies operating with the security services - until it happens to have been proven!
If the fomer navy commander and Michael Mansfield do succeed in having this case re-opened or even in raising awareness and a demand for the truth, they will be performing a service to Hilda Murrell's honour and justice, but also to all of us who need to know how this country is run and just what is going on behind the headlines.
They will also be putting to shame those hacks who have made it their business to cover for the security services and rubbish those questioning their role as "conspiracy theorists", simply because we're supposed to believe those things "don't happen here", regardless of the evidence. There are idiots who explain everything that happens in history as a "conspiracy", and other idiots who insist against all experience that our governments are always telling the truth, and there is no such thing as a conspiracy, nor even a cover-up. Neither type of idiocy is compulsory.