Page last updated at 14:43 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Hilda Murrell: An enduring enigma
Hilda Murrell
Hilda Murrell was well known as an anti-nuclear campaigner

Commander Robert Green, the nephew of Hilda Murrell, launches his book Security Without Nuclear Deterrence at the House of Lords on 16 June.

Green's anti nuclear stance would have been appreciated by his aunt, who was murdered in 1984, giving rise to several conspiracy theories.

Hilda Murrell was found battered and stabbed in a copse near Shrewsbury.

The 78-year-old peace activist, rose grower and opponent of the nuclear industry, had been left to die.

That was in March 1984, but it was to be 21 years before builder's labourer Andrew George was to stand accused of her murder.

It was a case which sparked two decades of mystery and speculation.

On this page:

Conspiracy theories

West Mercia Police began a thorough investigation of the murder, conducting house-to-house inquiries and interviewing dozens of people.

As the months passed and no one was arrested for the crime, the conspiracy theories began to emerge.

One involved Hilda Murrell's activities as an anti-nuclear campaigner. She died shortly after receiving approval to present a paper criticising the Government's policy on radio active waste management at a public inquiry into the Sizewell B Power Station.

Allegations were made that Miss Murrell was under surveillance from state security agents and had died because she disturbed people who were searching her home for documents which might embarrass the nuclear industry.

Her nephew, retired naval commander Rob Green, read her paper at the inquiry in September 1984.

Questions in the house

The conspiracy theories were fuelled by an article in the New Statesman in November 1984, written by Judith Cook, who later wrote a play about the murder. She suggested a political motive for the killing and linked it to the Sizewell B inquiry.

The Labour MP Tam Dalyell favoured a different explanation. He raised his concerns in the House of Commons on numerous occasions.

Hilda Murrell's nephew , Rob Green
Hilda Murrell's nephew, Rob Green was involved in naval intellegence

In December 1984 he claimed an informant, whom he refused to name, had given him information linking the sinking of the Argentine ship General Belgrano to Hilda Murrell's nephew, Robert Green, who was a naval commander involved in intelligence at the time.

He told the house that some people believed Mr Green may have kept some documents relating to the controversial sinking at Miss Murrell's home.

"Just as those of us who have had certain documents have taken the precaution of keeping them in friends' or relatives' houses while we have them, so it was thought that some of Rob Green's supposed records might be in the home of the aunt to whom he was close."

British Intelligence

Mr Dalyell said he had been informed that the intruders in Miss Murrell's home had been looking for papers relating to the Belgrano. They had no intention of hurting her let alone killing her, but she had defended herself and had died.

There are persons in Westminster and Whitehall who know a great deal more about the violent death of Miss Hilda Murrell than they have been so far prepared to divulge
Tam Dalyell MP

He told the commons that it was then that the cover-up began and the searchers in the house were men of the British Intelligence Service.

He concluded his speech by saying, "Of one thing I am certain; that there are persons in Westminster and Whitehall who know a great deal more about the violent death of Miss Hilda Murrell than they have been so far prepared to divulge."

Paddy Ashdown, who was an MP for the Liberal and Social Democratic Party Alliance, suggested that a full inquiry in front of a High Court Judge was the way forward in the absence of answers from the government.

The Minister of State for the Home Office, Giles Shaw said it would take time to answer the Mr Dalyell's questions, but he was able to confirm the MP's belief that Miss Murrell's death was not connected to the Sizewell B inquiry.

Police report

Tam Dalyell again got to his feet in the House of Commons in June 1985 to ask why the full report of a review of West Mercia Police's handling of the murder inquiry had not been published.

MP Tam Dalyell
MP Tam Dalyell raised the murder in the Commons

He asked for a copy of the review, carried out by Peter Smith, the Assistant Chief Constable of Northumbria, to be placed in the Commons Library and also wanted to know who had taken the decision not to publish.

Mr Dalyell suggested that the report might shed light on questions raised in the newly published books The Death of Rose Grower by Graham Smith and Who Killed Hilda Murrell, by Judith Cook and television programmes about the murder.

He told the house, "A secret report on activities that are shrouded in secrecy cannot dispel fear and mistrust. Some of the questions that I had hoped the inquiry report would answer raise issues of public concern."

Allay public concern

Mr Dalyell urged the government to "give a full and public account of the steps taken so far in the inquiry and publicly demonstrate in a way that leaves no reasonable doubt that there was no involvement in these tragic events... or instigated by the security services."

I care not whether the murderer was a by-chance burglar, a secret service agent or whoever. We want to see Miss Murrell's assassin brought to justice
Derek Conway MP

He added that: "Public confidence can be fully restored only when such authoritative evidence is made known and when all possible steps have been taken to find the murderer of Miss Murrell."

Derek Conway who was the Tory MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham told the commons there had been no substantiation to the theories and speculation.

He said, "They make good copy in newspapers and might make good reading a book or two. However the fact remains that the murderer of Hilda Murrell still goes free.

"I care not whether the murderer was a by-chance burglar, a secret service agent or whoever. We want to see Miss Murrell's assassin brought to justice."

Ongoing investigation

He also challenged Mr Dalyell to reveal his information linking the death of Miss Murrell to the British secret service.

In his answer, the Home Office Minister, Giles Shaw, said the reason the full report of the police review had not been published was because the investigation was ongoing and contained details of confidential operational information. Publication could also prejudice a future arrest.

He also repeated his assurance that Government intelligence services were not in any way connected.

Mr Shaw said Mr Dalyell's questions had been followed up: "Every allegation, every lead which he has offered has been taken seriously and examined from every possible angle by the West Mercia Police."

In the end it was the emergence of DNA as an investigative tool that was to break the case.

The Investigation

West Mercia Police said Miss Murrell had been sexually assaulted, kidnapped and left to die in a copse at Hunkington near Haughmond Hill after disturbing a burglar at her home in Shrewsbury.

The longer the murder went unsolved, the more conspiracy theories were put forward and the more complex the investigation became.

Then, on 9 June 2003, the police announced that a 35-year-old builder's labourer had been charged with the murder and abduction of Hilda Murrell.

The arrest followed a cold case review in 2002 when West Mercia Police announced that they would be examining 3,000 statements, 500 police reports, 6,000 lines of inquiry and more than 3,000 exhibits.

One in a billion

Andrew George, a builder's labourer with previous convictions, was arrested after his DNA was found to match samples taken from the scene.

Andrew George's DNA was one in a billion which is almost the most you can get
Former Det Insp Chris Knight

He had been 16 when Hilda Murrell was murdered and was in care at a children's home near her house in Sutton Road, Shrewsbury.

Former Det Insp Chris Knight who was involved in the case review said, after George had been jailed for life for the murder, that the DNA was vital: "Andrew George's DNA was one in a billion which is almost the most you can get."

George spent almost two years in custody before his trial during which time the inquiries continued.

Mr Knight said they had never stopped investigating: "We've had in the region of 65 police officers and police staff working on the investigation during that period. Investigations continued almost to the trial and during the trial the investigation carried on."

Red herring

Retired Det Con Nick Partridge was closely involved in the investigation. He was one of the officers who arrested and questioned Andrew George.

The original investigation team always concluded that this was a burglary that had gone wrong and I think the admissions that Mr George has made prove them to be correct.
Det Con Nick Partridge

He also studied the casefile over the 20-year period of the investigation, providing valuable help to the prosecution at the court hearing.

He said after the trial that he felt the conspiracy theories were a sign of the times: "The original investigation team always concluded that this was a burglary that had gone wrong and I think the admissions that Mr George has made prove them to be correct. But back at that time, the police had to have an open mind.

"They had to inspect and investigate every single aspect that was put forward and yes, it did turn out to be a red herring, yes, it did involve an extraordinary amount of work and effort and did up until the cold case review, but it had to be done to get to the truth."

Commendations

Five West Mercia officers who helped to solve the Hilda Murrell murder were awarded Chief Constable's commendations.

Mick Brunger, Paul West, Nick Partridge and Chris Knight
Members of the investigation team received commendations

They were the members of an investigation team, codenamed Operation Ice under the leadership of Det Supt Mick Brunger, who was commended for his organisation skills and handling of the 'massive file' of paperwork involved in the murder inquiry.

His deputy, Det Insp Chris Knight, was praised for his exceptional professionalism and dedication.

Also commended were Det Sgt Rick Klair and retired Det Con Nick Partridge, who were the arrest and interview officers, and Det Sgt Roy Earl, who was Principal Disclosure Officer.

Chief Constable, Paul West said: "As a force, we refused to give up on finding Miss Murrell's killer.

"The result illustrates our determination to obtain convictions and significant jail sentences for offenders who may think they have escaped justice, and my congratulations go to Det Supt Brunger and the Operation Ice team."

The Trial

The day after his arrest, Andrew George from Meadow Farm Drive in Shrewsbury appeared in court for the first time before Telford Magistrates, but it was to be nearly two years before he faced a jury at Stafford Crown Court. The trial was to last six weeks.

May I give you a piece of advice - put conspiracy theories to the back of your minds
Richard Latham QC

George, who was 16 at the time of Hilda Murrell's death, denied her murder and kidnap at the opening of the trial in April 2005.

Opening the case for the prosecution, Richard Latham QC urged the jury to keep an open mind: "There have been books written about this murder, there have been television programmes and endless newspaper articles.

"May I give you a piece of advice - put conspiracy theories to the back of your minds."

DVD presentation

The jury was shown a pioneering DVD presentation of evidence and scenes from the original investigation, which contained information from both the prosecution and the defence.

The knife presented in evidence
The knife police believe was used in the attack

The jury was told of the discovery of Miss Murrell's partly clothed body in a copse close to where her abandoned car had been found. She had been stabbed, had bruises to her body and a broken collar bone.

The pathologist who carried out the post mortem examination at the time of Miss Murrell's death, Dr Peter Acland, said she had died from hypothermia.

Another pathologist, Dr Nathanial Carey, who was brought into the investigation during the cold case review in 2002 said her wounds may have led to not only pain and distress, but also to confusion, combined with a developing weakness, as her body temperature cooled.

Fingerprints and DNA

Andrew George's former girlfriend, Anne Goode told the court he had admitted being inside Miss Murrell's house. He told her the door had been open and he had gone in to "have a look around" and that was how his fingerprints and DNA came to be at the scene. He denied any involvement in the murder.

George also tried to implicate his brother Steven claiming they had gone to the house together looking for money and it was Steven George who had tried to rape the 78-year-old and attacked her.

He has lived with this knowledge for more than two decades and with the fear that one day justice would catch up with him. Today is that day
Det Supt Mick Brunger

The jury found Andrew George guilty of murder and the Judge, Mr Justice Wakerley sentenced him to life in prison with a recommendation that he serve at least 15 years before being considered for parole.

He described the killing as unspeakable, adding, "The last hours of poor Miss Murrell were truly awful."

"Today is that day"

At the end of the trial Det Supt Brunger said: "Andrew George left Hilda Murrell to die a slow and painful death. He has lived with this knowledge for more than two decades and with the fear that one day justice would catch up with him. Today is that day."

He said he was delighted with the verdict, but others were not so convinced. One of them was Hilda Murrell's nephew, Rob Green.

He expressed concerns about the conviction: "I understand that the DNA means he was definitely in the house... but my concern is that of course it doesn't actually give the answer as to what happened to him in that house and how his DNA actually got there."

Mr Green said there was more to come: "We must wait for someone to come out of the woodwork and Andrew George of course knows a bit more. I'm afraid I remain unconvinced. I am researching a book about this and it won't make me stop. I don't get closure today."

Security services

The MP Tam Dalyell, who had repeatedly raised the murder in House of Commons debates said after the trial he found it difficult to believe that Andrew George, a teenager at the time, had committed the crime by himself.

He adhered to his conspiracy theory first voiced in 1984: "I believe the information that I was given that the security services were involved."

Mr Dalyell said he still believed that Miss Murrell's death was connected to the sinking of the Argentine ship, the General Belgrano, at the time of the Falklands crisis. Her nephew, Rob Green was one of two signals liaisons officers when the cruiser was sunk.

He refused to reveal who his informant was, but believed his information was accurate.




SEE ALSO
Hilda Murrell: A rose of England
11 Nov 09 |  History


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