Hilda Murrell

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Hilda Murrell (3 February 1906 – 23? March 1984) was a British rose grower, naturalist, diarist and campaigner against nuclear power and nuclear weapons. She was abducted and found murdered five miles from her home in Shropshire, in a case which remains controversial.

Life[edit]

Hilda Murrell was born on 3 February 1906 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire in the West Midlands of England, and lived there all her life. The elder of two daughters, she came from a family of nurserymen, seedsmen and florists going back to 1837. Her grandfather Edwin Murrell established and ran Portland Nurseries until his death in 1908.

A gifted pupil at Shrewsbury Girls' High School where she was head girl, Murrell won a scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge (1924–27). She graduated with an MA in English and French literature, and Modern and Mediaeval Languages.

Rose growing[edit]

Having no brothers, in 1928 Hilda was persuaded by her father Owen to join what was by then a successful and well-known family rose nursery and seed shop business run by him and his elder brother Edwin Foley Murrell. She quickly developed outstanding horticultural and business skills, and took over as Director in 1937.

Her energy and organisational flair proved assets during World War II in her voluntary work for the care and resettlement of Jewish refugee children in Shropshire foster homes and schools, making lifelong friends of some of those she helped. Her fund-raising efforts included arranging recitals in Shrewsbury by such world-famous performers as the pianist Dame Myra Hess and violinist Jelly d'Arányi.

Under her management, Edwin Murrell Ltd enjoyed its final golden years from 1949–70. She had become an internationally respected rose-grower and authority on rose species, old-fashioned varieties and miniature roses. The firm regularly won top awards at Chelsea and Southport Flower Shows as well as at the oldest annual flower show in the world in Shrewsbury. She sold roses to the Queen Mother and the Churchills, and helped Vita Sackville-West design her White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. Her annual rose catalogue was widely known and respected both for its information and elegant writing; and she also designed many gardens. In a final tribute, David C.H. Austin gained her approval to name a rose after her just three weeks before she was murdered.

Environmental activism[edit]

Walking, especially in hill country, was one of Murrell's favourite leisure activities from an early age; and she had a passion for mountaineering and even rock climbing until arthritis limited her in later life. With this she developed a deep concern to preserve the countryside and wildlife of the Welsh Marches. She was a founder-member of the national Soil Association promoting organic horticulture, and of what is now the Shropshire Wildlife Trust; and in the 1970s she worked unpaid with her customary energy for the Shropshire branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

On her retirement in 1970, the rose business was sold and she had time and resources to devote to emerging environmental problems and threats to Shrewsbury's rich architectural heritage. She also indulged her love affair with the Welsh Marches by building a Canadian cedarwood chalet high up on the Welsh side of Llanymynech Hill near Oswestry with a stunning view up the Tanat Valley to the Berwyn Mountains, where eventually her ashes were scattered.

She became an expert botanist, and extracts from her nature diaries were published in 1987 illustrated with her coloured photographs and brilliantly executed botanical drawings. She was also deeply knowledgeable about megalithic monuments and the history of the British landscape. Other enthusiasms included antiques, spinning and weaving, and birdwatching; and she was a skilled cook and dressmaker, and a voracious reader.

Murrell's central concern in later life was for the growing pollution crisis in the environment. She brought together carefully researched knowledge, a deep love of the natural world, and an ability to anticipate threats to it. She was also an indefatigable and fearless campaigner to bring these issues to the attention of those who had the power and responsibility to effect solutions.

Anti-nuclear activism[edit]

Having predicted the 1973 oil crisis, Murrell became increasingly concerned by the hazards posed by nuclear energy and weapons. With characteristic thoroughness, she began to research this highly technical field. In 1978, she wrote a paper entitled "What Price Nuclear Power?" in which she deployed her financial flair to challenge the economics of the civil nuclear industry. After the 1979 US accident at Three Mile Island, she turned her attention to safety aspects, and homed in on the problem of radioactive waste, the disposal of which she concluded was the industry's Achilles' heel. In 1982, the Department of the Environment published a white paper (Cmnd 8607) on the British Government's policy on radioactive waste management. Murrell, now in her late 70s, wrote a critique of it, which she developed into her submission "An Ordinary Citizen's View of Radioactive Waste Management" to the first formal planning inquiry into a nuclear power plant in Britain, the Sizewell B Pressurised Water Reactor in Suffolk.

Murder[edit]

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 soon reported abandoned in a country lane five miles outside Shrewsbury.

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.[1]

Murrell's murder quickly spawned conspiracy theories. In particular, it was suggested that she was killed by the security service during an operation against nuclear protesters.[2] 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, the Belgrano, 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.[3] 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,[4] 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.

Her Times obituary, by Charles Sinker, ended: “Her close friends remember her as a fierce but fundamentally gentle warrior, a Bunyan-like soul on a lonely and constant quest for the real path of the spirit. She died in tragic circumstances, alone in the empty countryside. It is an almost intolerable irony that a life so dedicated to peaceful pursuits, and to the pursuit of peace, should have been terminated by an act of mindless violence." She was cremated, nearly 5 months after her death, at Emstrey Crematorium, Shrewsbury[5] 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.

Trial of Andrew George[edit]

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.[6]

In court, George admitted participating in the crime, but asserted that he had broken into the house with his brother, who had been responsible for the sexual assault and the killing.[7] In May 2005 George was found guilty of kidnapping, sexually 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.[8] 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."[9] In June 2006 the Court of Appeal upheld the murder conviction, saying there was nothing unsafe about the verdict returned against George.[10]

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."

A former cell-mate of George's has stated that George admitted that he committed the crime, but says that he was not the only person involved. He says the burglary was committed by a gang of youths in search of money for drugs.[11] In March 2012, Michael Mansfield QC called for an inquiry into what MI5 knew about the case.[12]

In culture[edit]

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 (www.johnblakepublishing.co.uk) 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.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cole, D.J.; Acland, P.R. (1994-02-01). The Detective and the Doctor: A Murder Casebook. London: Robert Hale Ltd. ISBN 978-0709053552. 
  2. ^ L. V. Scott & P. D. Jackson, Journeys in Shadows, Routledge, New York, 2004, p.19.
  3. ^ "19 December 1984". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) (House of Commons). col. 458. 
  4. ^ "26 June 1985". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) (House of Commons). col. 1050. 
  5. ^ "Funeral of murder victime, Hilda". Shropshire Star. 25 August 1984. p. 1. 
  6. ^ Akbar, Arifa (7 June 2003). "Man held over murder of Hilda Murrell in 1984 – Crime, UK – The Independent". London: www.independent.co.uk. Retrieved 2 July 2009. 
  7. ^ "'MY BROTHER KILLED HILDA' Court Claim by Burglar Accused of Murder", Birmingham Evening Mail, April 21, 2005, p.69.
  8. ^ "Appeal over Murrell murder case". BBC News. 17 May 2005. Retrieved 2 July 2009. 
  9. ^ Britten, Nick (7 May 2005). "Life for burglar who left peace campaigner to die". London: telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2 July 2009. 
  10. ^ Birmingham Post, 10 June 2006
  11. ^ Hilda Murrell: Killer's cell mate says others involved
  12. ^ Mark Townsend (18 March 2012). "Hilda Murrell murder: call to examine 'MI5 link' to murder of nuclear activist". The Observer. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 

Bibliography[edit]

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