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The Collieries of Wales

 

 

Choose your conspiracy
Dave Douglass reviews Robert Green's A thorn in their side:
the Hilda Murrell murder Rata Books, 2011, pp208, £26


 

It is 1984. Thatcher’s prestige has risen on the back of the Falklands war, the opening engagement of which was the sinking of the old Argentine battle cruiser, General Belgrano, by British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror. The Belgrano was outside the exclusion zone and steaming away from the conflict zone.
The Tories’ covert plan to engage and defeat the miners involves long-term plans to replace the economic and social dependence on coal and switch to a nuclear alternative. In the run-up to the greatest class engagement since the General Strike, the enquiry into Britain’s first pressurised water reactor nuclear power plant at Sizewell, Suffolk is just opening.
Tensions between the military, the USA, the police and women peace campaigners at Greenham Common airbase in Berkshire are rising. Top-secret deployment plans for cruise missiles are being blown wide open by peace campaigners exposing the routes of the vehicles and publicly tracking them. Trident is in the public limelight and exposed to increasing protest and hostile public opinion. New Zealand has imposed an anti-nuclear exclusion zone, which bans all Nato and particularly American nuclear-capable ships from its waters.
All this had serious consequences for the UK nuclear state. Halfway through 1983 a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstration in London had attracted over 250,000 protestors and the secretary of state for defence, Michael Heseltine, responded with the creation of a pro-nuclear propaganda unit called DS19, with direct links with MI5. Whistleblower Cathy Massiter revealed that the F Branch was operating against ‘domestic subversion’ and had been massively expanded to counter the anti-nuclear movement. In conjunction with special branch, the whole range of surveillance, phone taps, letter opening, break-ins was engaged in. Labour MP Tam Dalyell was later to speculate that hired agents and rogue elements within MI5 had been given a free hand, largely due to the threats posed by the miners, and were increasingly out of control.
Hilda Murrell is an anti-nuclear campaigner, one of the witnesses due to testify against permission for the PWR. In 1984, in the second week of the miners’ Great Strike and before she can present her evidence to the Sizewell enquiry, Hilda Murrell  is murdered in the most suspicious of circumstances. It is one of the biggest and most famous murder cases of the 20th century, with allegations of political conspiracy and cover-up involving the nuclear industry and the Falklands war. Her mutilated body was found six miles from her home in a popular copse. She was 78 years old. It took police 21 years to find a suspect and convict Andrew George, at the time of the murder a 16-year-old foster home runaway.
Here we have the bare ingredients of a mystery, conspiracy and crime which is the stuff of fiction writers’ imaginations. But this tale is true. Murrell’s nephew, Royal Navy commander Robert Green, set about reviewing the facts of these events, and to start to challenge the whole nuclear concept - both weapons and civil-use. Just before the murder of his aunt he had led the top intelligence naval team providing information and support for the Polaris nuclear fleet. He was released from service following the Falklands war.
In many people grief and loss of a loved one engender a search for someone to blame; or sometimes friends and relatives will be consumed by self-blame, following an unexpected death. In this case, with a murder, a sexual assault, a body dumped in a wood, and a suspect whose partial confession of guilt cannot be the whole story, it is entirely understandable that Green, whose whole life had been turned upside down, would start a search for the truth.

Unlikely culprit

Andrew George admitted being at the house where the murder and rape took place - his semen, DNA and fingerprints were found at the scene and on the victim’s clothing. His story is that his brother committed the deed while he was there solely to take part in an opportunist robbery. His brother, he said, tried to involve him in the sex attack by masturbating him and this is why his sperm was found. Despite this statement and the fact that the DNA and sperm of an unknown person had been found at the scene, the police chose to ignore the accusations against his brother, who was never charged. George’s confession contained no mention of any other person involved in his version of events.
The police believed that after being beaten and stabbed Murrell was driven to a distant copse, where she was attacked again and left for dead. The autopsy suggested she was alive for some time afterwards, having crawled a little way from her abandoned car despite desperate injuries. The cause of death was “hypothermia, plus penetrating wounds to the abdomen, with multiple bruises to the face”.
The trouble with that scenario is that Andrew George was unable to drive, while Hilda, with her severe injuries, including a broken collarbone and abdominal stab wounds, could not have been the driver either. The car was found crashed, but the drivers side oor was smashed shut and unable to open. Apart from which, it was in full view of a busy road. The car keys were found in Hilda’s pocket. A large kitchen knife from her kitchen was found near the body, although it was not used in the attack. The DNA and a fingerprint found in the car did not belong to either Hilda, any of her friends or the man convicted of her murder. This element was not pursued by the prosecution, defence or the many investigation officers. The implication being that if Hilda had driven the car she would have had to crawl across her assailant to escape, despite her injuries. The contrary theory is that she was never in the car, and the car and its occupants were decoys.
The car sat there for days, although it was reported almost as soon as it was spotted by the farmer who owned the land. The police arrived two days  later at Hilda’s home. But, finding the doors open and lights on, they did not seem to think her absence from either the car or the house suspicious enough to start a search for her - although autopsy evidence suggests that if they had, and if indeed her body had not been moved, they would have discovered her, probably still alive and with a strong chance of recovery. Instead it is alleged that she was lying there undetected for days, within sight of the abandoned car.
The problem with the police version of events is that the copse owner Ian Scott had made a tree-by-tree examination, before a planned programme of felling, the day after Hilda was said to have died, and it is utterly inconceivable he would not have seen the body. He swore in a statement to the police he was in the copse 24 hours after her approximate time of death and “must have walked within a yard of where her body was found”. The implication is that she had been taken from the house, tortured, murdered in an unknown location, and then dumped days later in the woods.
Andrew George’s story, with or without the involvement of his brother, does not answer these anomalies, yet if there were other forces, other agencies involved here alongside the petty thief and sadist, why not mention them in the statement? Much later he claimed that men with guns had appeared in Hilda’s house and threatened to kill him and his brother if they mentioned the gunmen’s presence. But by this time allegations of a conspiracy involving the state had already been circulating.
The reader is left to try and fit all the loose ends, dead ends and overlapping features into some kind of coherent whole, since clearly the cops had not done so, preferring simply to drop elements from the narrative if they did not fit. Hilda’s car had been seen being driven on the day of her death by a number of her neighbours. They reported seeing a person flopped forward in the passenger seat wearing Hilda’s hat and coat, and a strange man at the steering wheel.
Increasingly frustrated by the lack of answers to glaringly obvious questions, Green started to investigate the crime himself. As part of this he delved into Hilda’s activities, finding out what campaigns she was involved in and with whom. The picture becomes grimmer with every new interview and revelation. What is revealed is a saga of strange deaths, murders, threats, robberies and surveillance - all of them involving fellow anti-nuclear campaigners, and people whose paths have crossed Hilda’s. Strange individuals start to appear uninvited and persistently in people’s lives. Green himself finds he is the object of intense surveillance, potentially lethal sabotage and naked threats. Put together with the crime itself, there is clearly something going on here, in which Andrew George, the man now doing time as the sole perpetrator of the murder, cannot have had any involvement.
During all the controversy of the inquest and then the demand for a second autopsy, Hilda’s body had been allowed to decompose, contrary to all established procedures in such cases. Later most of  the vital organs extracted for future examination disappear and are never found.

State accused

On December 20 1984 Tam Dalyell gets to his feet in the House of Commons and declares that British intelligence are involved in the murder. He wrongly states that commander Green had given the order to the Conqueror  to sink the Belgrano, and had privileged information on the Falklands. The implication was, Green may have intended to pass on sensitive information to his aunt for public exposure through the anti-nuclear movement.
The most popular rationale for the whole bloody affair is the idea that Hilda might have been holding secret information on the Falklands and the nuclear industry obtained from her nephew and it was this that provoked her eventual murder. Others have offered the theory that in fact Dalyell was deliberately misinformed, both about Green’s role and the centrality of the Falklands adventure, in order to distract attention from agents operating for the nuclear industry either directly or in collusion with the secret state.
Four months after the murder The Observer broke a story about private investigative agents operating for the nuclear industry with links to British intelligence. Their role was to identify witnesses and objectors at the Sizewell enquiry, their backgrounds, politics, contacts and connections. Zeus Security Consultants refused to name who hired them, but Green traced them to a firm of London solicitors, who in turn took instructions from “a large corporate client whose identity was never disclosed”.
When it comes to evidence about unusual vehicular activity around Hilda’s isolated and usually quiet house, we find a virtual parking lot for unidentified cars and vans. Numerous sightings of strange vehicles and odd-looking men are noted and often reported by the neighbours. There is clear evidence that other vehicles are on Hilda’s premises, apart from her own car, around the time of the murder and clearly for some time following it. Also, between the visit of the first, none too curious, police officer and subsequent police searches, curtains close or open, lights are switched on or off. The phone is disconnected to give just a ‘silent’ tone , but then after the death and start of the police enquiry it is pulled from the wall. Clothing disappears. None of any of this ties in with the imprisoned man’s statement and version of events.
It would be unfair to readers to have me present my conclusions on this complex and conspiracy-ridden drama, because, apart from its dreadful human consequences, the uncovering of facts and loose ends is fascinating. As the book and the evidence unfold, I changed my mind twice as to what happened and who happened it. Readers might like to form their own conclusions. The book can be ordered from Rata Books, PO Box 8390, Christchurch 8440, New Zealand, or www.hildamurrell.org
Or kate@chch.planet.org.nz


 

 

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