Background. After retiring in 1970 in her home town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire, Hilda’s passionate patriotism – especially her love for Britain’s landscapes, wildlife and historical heritage – led her to campaign against both nuclear energy and weapons. She correctly saw radioactive waste as the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry, and that nuclear electricity generation in its current form was unsafe and could not be sustained without massive government subsidies. In the early 1980s she supported the Greenham Common women’s resistance to stationing of US Cruise missiles, and challenged the Thatcher government on the loss of sovereignty and independence in British foreign policy associated with dependence on the US for nuclear weapons, and building at Sizewell in Suffolk a US reactor design which had failed at Three Mile Island in 1979.
Her Murder. On 21 March 1984, she was preparing to present her paper An Ordinary Citizen’s View of Radioactive Waste Management (pdf) as one of very few independent objectors at the first public inquiry into a new nuclear power plant in Britain, at Sizewell. At about midday, following a break-in at her home where it seems only a little cash was found to be missing, she was apparently abducted in her own car, which a man was seen driving erratically by many witnesses. A farmer quickly reported it abandoned on the side of a lane through his land just outside Shrewsbury; but the West Mercia Police took nearly three days to find her mutilated body in a poplar copse nearly half a mile across fields from the car.
Despite one of the biggest-ever British police investigations, public criticisms of their theory that it had been simply a “bungled burglary” grew as the police made no progress, and responded defensively to several bizarre developments in the case, including the emergence of two political motives.
The Belgrano Connection. This centred on the controversial torpedoing of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano by the nuclear attack submarine HMS Conqueror during the 1982 Falklands War. Hilda’s nephew Commander Green came under suspicion for leaking top secret information to a very persistent and well-informed Labour politician, Tam Dalyell, who also happened to be pro-nuclear energy. In a sensational trial in 1985, a Ministry of Defence official, Clive Ponting, was acquitted for whistle-blowing to Dalyell that Michael Heseltine, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Secretary of State for Defence, had ordered him to write two versions of the Belgrano sinking: a factual one for the Cabinet, and a sanitised one for Parliament.
During that war, Commander Green was in the command bunker in Northwood outside London working as Staff Officer (Intelligence) to the Commander-in-Chief Fleet, Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse. For career reasons Green had applied for redundancy from the Navy before the war, and left at the end of 1982. In a late-night House of Commons debate before Christmas 1984, Tam Dalyell stated under Parliamentary privilege that, although Green was not his source of secret information, he had “sent the order to sink the General Belgrano”. This was quite wrong, because attack orders are sent by operations not intelligence officers; besides, Green was off-duty at the time. Dalyell went on to allege that British intelligence agents had been ordered to search Hilda’s house for secret documents relating to the sinking which Green might have given to her for safekeeping, and Hilda had returned home unexpectedly leading to the need to silence her.
Nuclear Motive. Allegations then emerged that objectors at the Sizewell Inquiry, and leading anti-nuclear weapon and environmental campaigners, were under surveillance from State security agents. In addition to radioactive waste problems, Hilda was researching its genetic effects, had criticised the finances of the nuclear energy industry, and was opposed to nuclear weapons. She was also taking advice from several more radical anti-nuclear activists, including a retired British radio-chemist, Don Arnott, who dropped out of the Sizewell Inquiry after a mysterious heart attack in April 1983. He had been preparing to testify about a design fault in the control rod system of the Three Mile Island reactor which could have been a major contributory cause of its meltdown in 1979, and which was replicated in the UK version under scrutiny at the Inquiry. No-one else raised the issue; but Hilda met him at his first public lecture after recovering from his heart attack six weeks before she was murdered. Green read Hilda’s paper into the record at the Inquiry in September 1984. However, in his book Green describes how he came to suspect she had much more sensitive information which was damaging to the nuclear industry.
Case History Summary. Hilda’s case received wide and persistent media coverage for over ten years, and to date has inspired six books and chapters in four books, three plays and several TV documentaries. UK national media interest revived in June 2003 following a two-year Cold Case Review by the West Mercia Police which led to 35 year-old Andrew George being charged with her abduction and murder, nearly 20 years after her death. His trial in April-May 2005 was a travesty of justice, failing to investigate what happened between Hilda’s abduction and the discovery of her body almost three days later. Because George’s DNA was found in semen on a slip on Hilda’s body, and his fingerprints were found in her house, he was convicted despite bearing no resemblance to the driver of her car and being unable to drive. Sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment without parole, he will not be released until 2018. Following a failed appeal in 2006, Robert Green obtained crucial new information including different DNA which would acquit George and prove that at least one other man was involved in Hilda’s murder.
Pursuing the Truth. In his book, A Thorn in Their Side: The Hilda Murrell Murder, Green chronicles how Hilda inspired him to support her radical views on the environment, nuclear energy and eventually weapons. This was despite his 20-year naval career (1962-82) during which he operated nuclear weapons in carrier-borne strike jets and anti-submarine helicopters before finally running the team providing intelligence support to the Fleet.
Green was more than Hilda’s nephew and next of kin. After his mother Betty, Hilda’s younger sister, died in 1964 when he was a 19 year-old Midshipman, he developed a close friendship with his aunt. She became his mentor, and conferred with him about her work opposing nuclear energy. Radicalised by her murder, he took up her torch, helping to stop the building of a nuclear power plant, and becoming the first ex-Royal Navy Commander with nuclear weapon experience to oppose them.
His intention in writing A Thorn in Their Side is, first, to expose a probable miscarriage of justice and re-open Hilda’s case. In so doing, he wishes to clear his name and put the record straight about his involvement in the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War. Also, he explains why he became convinced that the Belgrano motive provided the trigger to move against Hilda, in a carefully planned operation to abduct her to a safe house for interrogation under torture on what she knew about this and embarrassing information about the Sizewell reactor design, before being left to be found dead in order to discourage others. As the current British government presses to replace nuclear power plants and weapons, Hilda’s arguments have lost none of their force. Green argues for an independent inquiry to prevent such corrupt abuse of the system of British justice and governance in future.