Activism / Politics

Who killed Hilda Murrell?

There are new calls to reopen the case of the murdered CND activist, Hilda Murrell.

In my pamphlet, Penetration (published in 1993) I summarised some elements in the case:

At the time of her death, Hilda Murrell had been working on a paper on the management of nuclear waste to be read to the Sizewell B enquiry. On February 25, 1984, she rang Gerard Morgan-Greville of EcoRopa, an ecology group in Abergavenny, in a very agitated state. “If they don’t get me first,” she exclaimed, “I want the world to know that one old woman has seen through their lies.”
Four weeks later, she did not turn up for a lunch date in Salisbury on Wednesday, March 24, but witnesses saw her being driven through the city, sitting slumped in the passenger seat of her own car. Later that afternoon, a local farmer reported to the police that he had found an abandoned car slewed on a grass verge. When it was still there two days later, he called the police again, who explained their inaction by saying that the wrong number had been fed into the police computer.
After the car had been identified, they searched a nearby copse on the morning of Saturday, March 26, where they found her body. There are some confusions about the police reports: originally they said they found the body at 10.30am, then revised the time to 7am. They said there was evidence of sexual assault, which was also withdrawn. However, a man who claimed in 1992 that he was Murrell’s killer was exonerated and sent back to Rampton Hospital – where he was already under treatment for other sexual crimes – because, it was said, his semen did not match that of the unknown killer, which would be hard to check if there had been no sexual assault, as the police are now claiming.
The police said that her house had been ransacked, which was also withdrawn. They said they broke into the house after they found her body, but the neighbours knew her door was unlocked. The telephone had been cut off so that when callers rang they thought it was ringing, but it could not be heard in the house – a sophisticated operation, which cannot be accomplished with a pair of wire cutters. Needless to say, Miss Murrell’s research papers on nuclear waste had disappeared.
The discovery of a body on his land startled farmer Ian Scott, because he had just counted all the trees in the copse shortly before, earmarking those he intended to fell. He said it would have been impossible for him to have missed the body.

Suicide of a freelance agent

Neighbours reported seeing men in the house on the Friday night before the discovery of her body, some of them in uniform. When Tom Dalyell, MP, raised this in the House of Commons on December 20, 1984, the Home Secretary denied it. At the inquest, none of this evidence was called, and a friend of Hilda Murrell’s, Joan Tate, whose husband had founded the local Nature Conservation Trust with her, complained: “A number of people who came forward with different bits of information – it’s been called co-operation by the public – have been treated offensively.” The verdict was “unlawful killing” and a report was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but to date no one has been charged with the murder, said by the police to have been the work of a burglar who was disturbed by Miss Murrell when she came home unexpectedly.
Not long after Murrell’s death, Barrie Peachman rang a colleague saying that he was “in terrible trouble” and intended to kill himself. On April 17, 1984, he shot himself outside the home of his mistress and fellow-director, Shirley Ann Smith, leaving a note which said: “Shirley refused to help me.”
In February 1987, a number of members of IPI were sentenced at the Old Bailey for breaches of the Official Secrets Act, which were said to have resulted in the death of an overseas diplomat. One of the defendants said he had worked for Zeus Security, carrying out electronic surveillance of Sizewell B protestors.
An anonymous intelligence officer described the affair as a “panic-stricken shambles” in the magazine Lobster (16).

“If a decision is taken at a high level to abduct and kill an intelligence target by the use of official operatives,” he wrote, “it has to be confirmed first of all that such a course of action is really necessary. If such an operation is decided, carefully laid plans are prepared . . .
“. . . In any event, the perpetrators would take every precaution to ensure that they did not attract attention to the operation. Unbelievable technical facilities would be available as a back-up and in the case of Hilda Murrell, she would simply have vanished in the dead of night or, alternatively, ‘died under natural circumstances’, or in a carefully prepared ‘accident’.
“If a decision had been made to simply break and enter the home of Miss Murrell for the purposes of a ‘search’, quite frankly official operatives would not have been caught. A number of agents would have been used after a long pre-entry reconnaissance. Miss Murrell would have been followed whilst the search was taking place and the ‘burglars’ warned of her return, giving them time to withdraw.
“The events surrounding the death of Miss Murrell were not the events of a carefully conceived intelligence operation .
“I am not suggesting for one moment that officials in government service did not suggest a certain course of action. On the contrary, I am confident that officials of the Security Service at a very high level suggested/condoned the break-in and immediately after Miss Murrell’s death, inhibited the police investigation so that progress was impossible.
“From my investigation to date, I am confident beyond any reasonable shadow of doubt that the death of Miss Murrell was caused by private investigators or security consultants acting on behalf of a government department. I do not believe that their brief was to abduct and kill Miss Murrell, but to break and enter her premises for the purposes of searching for sensitive information. Her unexpected return home resulted in utter panic amongst the culprits and the eventual death of Miss Murrell.”

In short, it was another of the cock-ups which have distinguished intelligence operations, east and west, for most of this century.

Here is the Wikpedia report of her death, and the subsequent trial of her alleged murderer, who is not due to be released from prison for another five years, in 2018:

Hilda Murrell was scheduled 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 21 March 1984, her Shrewsbury home was apparently burgled and a small amount of cash was taken. She was abducted in her own car, a white Renault 5, which many witnesses reported seeing being driven erratically through the town and past the police station during the lunch hour. The vehicle was quickly reported abandoned in a country lane five miles outside Shrewsbury, but the West Mercia Police took another three days to find her body in a copse across a field from her car. She had been beaten and stabbed multiple times, but did not die from her injuries, instead succumbing to hypothermia. Her autopsy was performed by Dr. Peter Acland who together with the detective leading the case, Detective Chief Superintendent David Cole, wrote about this and other cases in a “The Detective and the Doctor: A Murder Casebook”.

Hilda was the aunt of Commander Robert Green, Royal Navy (Retired), a former naval intelligence officer who was wrongly said to have passed the order for the sinking of the Argentine ship theBelgrano by the nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror during the 1982 Falklands War. Labour MP Tam Dalyell, hounding Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about the controversial sinking, added a second conspiracy theory about Murrell’s death when he announced in Parliament early on 20 December 1984 that British Intelligence had been involved. Until then only her anti-nuclear work had been suspected as a political motive. Dalyell raised the issue in the Commons again in June 1985, having originally been prompted to take an interest in the murder by an anonymous phone call asking him to read an article by Judith Cook in the New Statesman of 9 November 1984, which discussed the case. Cook later wrote a book about Murrell’s murder, Unlawful Killing.

She was cremated, nearly 5 months after her death, at Shrewsbury Crematorium and her ashes scattered at Maengwynedd, in Wales. A commemorative stone was unveiled in Tan-y-bryn, Llanrhaeadr in 2004 in a birch grove planted on the twentieth anniversary of her death.

In March 2012 Michael Mansfield QC called for an inquiry into what MI5 knew about the case.

The trial of Andrew George

Local labourer Andrew George, who was 16 when Murrell was murdered, was arrested in June 2003 after a cold case review of the murder uncovered DNA and fingerprint evidence linking him with the crime.[5]

In May 2005 George was found guilty of kidnappingsexually assaulting, and murdering Murrell and he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum term of 15 years that is likely to keep him in prison until at least 2018 and the age of 51.[6] The Daily Telegraph quoted the investigating officer as saying “I told you so”, but Tam Dalyell as saying it stretched the imagination to breaking point to suppose that the body, dumped on a Wednesday, could have lain undiscovered until the following Saturday despite a search of the copse on the Thursday by a farmer and his dog: “The two would have had no problem finding a dead rabbit, let alone the body of Hilda Murrell”. And Robert Green was quoted as saying “There are many unanswered questions. I believe that the conviction may be unsafe.” In June 2006 the Court of Appeal upheld the murder conviction, saying there was nothing unsafe about the verdict returned against George

Green disagrees. “There is evidence that Andrew George was in Hilda’s house; however, he could not drive and did not match the description of the driver of her car. Since the trial, which I sat through, I have found evidence that would have acquitted him, and that others were involved. Meanwhile, break-ins to my home in New Zealand and continuing interference with my phone and mail suggest that the British state security authorities fear what I might reveal about the case.”

Her murder was the subject of a song, “The Rose Grower” by the English group Attacco Decente. It can be found on their album The Baby Within Us Marches On.

Grace, the 1988 novel by Maggie Gee, implicates the British secret state in its fictional parallel to the murder of Hilda Murrell.

“Resist the Atomic Menace”, from Oi Polloi‘s debut EP is also about her death.

Green released a book A Thorn in Their Side: The Hilda Murrell Murder in October 2011 which he claims “provides enough new evidence, known to both prosecution and defence but not put to the jury or Appeal Court judges in 2006, to re-open the coroner’s inquest into her death.”

In August 2013, John Blake Publishing ( released a new UK edition, ‘A Thorn in Their Side’, with a new penultimate chapter covering developments since the first NZ edition was published, plus a new Foreword by Michael Mansfield QC and colour illustrations.

For updates, see also

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