This is part one of a three part podcast. 21 March 1984. Hilda Murrell was abducted from her home. She was an anti-nuclear campaigner who had just gained approval to present a paper on the problems of nuclear waste at the Sizewell planning inquiry.
Hildfa's body was found three days later. The police thought that a lone panicking burglar was responsible.
It seemed more probable that a panicking government or nuclear agent or agents were responsible and then a cover up put into operation. In part one of the story we try to consider4 the state of the UK in 1984 and the events of 21st March 1984.
Part two which will be realised tomorrow (Saturday 17 April) will consider the reasons why Hilda was murdered,
Part three which will be broadcast the day after part two (Sunday 18th April) will try to come to some conclusions.
Hilda Murrel Podcast part 1 (1984)
The story for this podcast is set in 1984. What was 1984 like?
The year 1984 wasn’t quite as bad as Orwell’s vision but it was knocking on the door. There were definite signs of a totalitarian society coming into focus. We had a radical right wing government run by Margaret Thatcher, that would not have been recognised by traditional Conservatives.
It was a government that had more in common with Whig or Liberal governments of the 19th century with the caveat that its citizens must be closely observed and controlled.
The Thatcher government had quite quickly became a neo-liberal government after their 1979 General Election victory, the ‘wets’ one nation Tories mps replacing the ‘drys’ free marketeers mps. Privatisation and using high unemployment to fight inflationary pressures and restrictive trade union prcatices being main objectives.
Politically it was an unhappy period in both British and world politics.
1984 saw the beginnings of the AIDS crisis, chaos in the Indian sub-continent with the Amritsar massacre, death of Indira Ghandi and the Bhopal disaster.
The Cold war was ‘hotting up’. There were protests from the USSR about USA arms-control violations and subsequent Soviet nuclear tests in Eastern Kazakhstan. There was a power struggle in the USSR and on the 21 March 1984, a Soviet submarine crashed into an American warship off the coast of Japan.
Such incidents highlighting concerns over nuclear weapons. It was revealed in 1984 about an event that almost caused annihilation a couple of years earlier, when the USA probed Soviet early warning systems and the Soviets got very ‘twitchy’, a glitch on their systems made it seem if they were under attack and missiles would have been sent had it not been for the Russian duty officer Stanislav Petrov waiting five minutes before raising the attack alarm which would have launched a Russian launch response. So, thank you Stanislav for that.
There was a fear that MAD, (mutually assured destruction) could be set off by accident, such as by unusual cloud formations being mistaken for missiles, or military practice manoeuvres being mistaken as cover for an attack or some other misconstrued action causing nuclear war.
The period of ‘détente’ between the two super-powers had broken down and become worse since the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the Soviet began a crackdown on its Eastern Block neighbours and allies raising tension everywhere.
It isn’t often that pop music takes much of an interest in World politics but The band Frankie goes to Hollywood had a much hyped single called ‘Two Tribes’ its promotional video showing the leaders of the USA and USSR fighting each other reflecting the power struggle between the two super powers. Two Tribes was number one in the charts for over two months in the summer of 1984. It was available on the compilation album ‘now that’s what I call music’ 3, these were a series of albums that started in 1984, the third album also having tracks by Bronski Beat, Queen, Wham and ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ by the Specials, (Nelson was freed in 1990)
During 1984, the Conservative government was in a strong position without much effective opposition. They had a majority of over 100 seats in the House of commons. Nevertheless, there was a build-up of resentment against the Tories, and they were determined to try to manage any difficult news stories.
The Thatcher government were setting a course for a nuclear future regarding both to provide power and to defend the country. They wanted to back up and support American policy in NATO. to replace the Polaris nuclear deterrent with Trident and allow the siting of American Cruise missiles at Greenham Common. The Cruise missile caused much protest as the UK government was to have no control over their use.
The USA president Ronald Reagan was unpopular with many and he was depicted as a gun-totting cowboys out to get the ‘Evil Empire’ as he referred to the USSR during 1984.
Reagan was not trusted in the UK as many thought that he may be tempted to launch a pre-emptive strike on the Russians from the missiles based at Greenham Common.
An opinion poll in November 1983 showed that 94% of Britain wanted dual control over the weapons at Greenham although most people in the UK were in favour of nuclear weapons if other countries had them.
There was also disquiet about the Soviet deployment of SS-20s an intermediate-range nuclear weapon aimed at targets in Western Europe which caused NATO to base Cruise and Pershing intermediate range nuclear weapons as a response.
The UK was known as America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier. It seemed to many, that Western Europe was the target that the Americans were hiding behind. Such was the mindset in 1984 in the UK, nuclear war seemed a possibility.
There was much opposition to Conservative government’s policy. This caused a massive rise in the numbers of those joining CND and the anti-nuclear lobby.
1984, saw a divided society, based partly based on age. Any politically minded younger member of society would be wearing a CND badge and perhaps a ‘nuclear power, no thanks’ badge which was of course indicating opposition to nuclear weapons but also showed a distrust of authority.
The worry of the Cold War caused massive peace protests across Europe. Labour local authorities began to include ‘Peace studies’ on school curriculums, Local councils began to declare themselves as ‘Nuclear free zones’ representing expressions of dissent.
The Conservative government had helped fuel concern by sending every household in the UK a government leaflet called ‘Protect and Survive’, which was a guide of what to do in case of a nuclear attack.
Meanwhile the concern felt by the public was reflected in television dramas about nuclear devastation and government cover-ups and nuclear power conspiracies and the power of the nuclear power industries. In my research I found six general released and popular films about nuclear issues in 1983 and these lists did not include the film ‘Silkwood’ whose story is thought most similar to the one to be told here.
When we eventually get round to the events of this podcast which was the murder of an anti-nuclear campaigner in March 1984, the record that was top of the charts was about 99 balloons triggering by mistake a nuclear war, probably inspired by events explained earlier, thank you again Stanislov.
Part of the reason that the Conservative party wanted nuclear power, was political, to stop the country’s reliance on coal and to break the power of the National Union of Mineworkers who had called strikes that had bought down previous Conservative governments.
Advocates of nuclear power were concerned about acid rain and climate change, they argued that nuclear power was ‘clean power’.
Those against nuclear power were concerned because of the cost involved, environmental damage when obtaining uranium and the leaks at stations already operating and the difficulties of safely storing nuclear waste. It is thought that some types of nuclear waste remain hazardous for a million years.
The re-emergence of CND and anti-nuclear policy caught the Conservative government by surprise, the government instructed the Security services to get intelligence as to what was happening by whatever means possible.
This probably necessitated breaching the maxwell Fyfe directive of 1952 which set out guidelines for MI5 officers, this being that ‘ No enquiry is to be carried out on behalf of any government department unless you are satisfied that an important public interest bearing on the Defence of the realm is at stake’. This being backed up by Lord Denning who was a little more blunt saying that the Security Services are to be used for one purpose only, the defence of the realm.
So who are the Security Services?
MI5. MI means military intelligence, as MI5 was created during World War 1 (1914-18). This service relates to the FBI in the USA. MI5 are basically Secret Police. They argue that they are not a law enforcement agency, but they very close links with the police and in practice they are above the law because whatever action they take is ‘in defence of the realm’.
MI5, protect the UK against threats to national security from espionage, terrorism and sabotage. They claim that the law also prohibits them from acting to further the interests of any political party. This has not always been the case.
MI6 is also known as the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), they are concerned with intelligence gathered from abroad that may impact on UK security. James Bond is the Ian Fleming creation who supposedly worked for MI6, Fleming having glamourised the position of MI6 spy. John Le Carre’s spies (George Smiley) also work for M16. MI6 is similar to the CIA in the USA.
Special Branch : Well difficult to define. It is an anti-terrorism police force. It is difficult to define where their operations begin and end and who they are responsible for. Counter Terrorism.
There are also detective branches that you probably have never heard of that are part of the security services, Amongst which are:
The Royal navy police.
Royal Military Police.
Royal Air Force Police.
Atomic energy Police.
British Transport Police.
Customs & Excise
There are other branches of the Security Services that we don’t know about or are very obscure. I once listened to a radio programme on M19 whose purpose to to help assist the escape of British prisoners of war during WW2. The British security services are a bit of a muddle, they have grown piecemeal without any overall plan reacting to circumstances. It could be argued that the National Crime Agency that was launched in the UK during 2013 replicates much of the work of MI5.
GCHQ The acronym means Government Communications H.Q. It protects the UK from those that mean us harm by spying on everyone considered a threat. GCHQ were a press item in 1984 as it banned any type of trade unions for those that worked there, which set the scene for the 1980s. GCHQ eavesdrop on communications and break codes. The equivalent in the USA would be the NSA.
It must have seemed like a war to the right wing governments of the early 1980s. The President of the USA Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded in 1981 and the Prime Minister of the UK Margaret Thatcher was almost killed in the Brighton bomb of 1984.
It was the Thatcher Conservative government who were in power and struggling in the opinion polls when in 1982 the Falkland’s war started. An undeclared war between Argentina and the UK in 1982.
There was a military junta in Argentina who wanted to gain popularity and thought that the British would not defend the Falklands and ‘invaded’ in April 1982. The Military rulers of Argentina wanted to mobilise patriotic feelings of Argentines towards the Falklands in part to divert attention away from their economic problems and human rights violations.
The majority of those living on the Falkland Islands in 1982 wanted to be British and were against an Argentine invasion, The British had tried to persuade the Falkland Islanders to have closer links with Argentina in the 1970s, Lord Chalfont had visited to convince them that this was their best option. The Falkland Islanders did not agree.
The Falklands war was won in ten weeks, this gave Thatcher (The Iron Lady) an enormous boost and she won a general election in 1983 with a majority of 114 seats in Parliament.
Thatcher was empowered by the Falklands victory. She drew parallels between the battle for the Falklands in 1982 and the battle against Trade Union militancy in the UK. In the Falklands she said that the battle was with the enemy without; against the Trade Unions it is the battle within.
There had been criticism of an action during the Falklands war when the Argentine cruiser the General Belgrano was sunk. More of which later. There were other issues hinted at that the Thatcher government wanted to keep secret.
The Conservative government’s war within, against some of its own citizens who were protested against the Conservative government’s policies which included:
Cruise Missiles were coming into Greenham Common and there were protests with people camping at the base.
‘Shoot to kill in Belfast policy’ and other events in Northern Ireland.
Unions banned at GCHQ and wider action against Trade Unions.
The NUM Strike. There were problems with militancy in other trade unions during 1984, but the struggle remembered from this time was against the coal miners, who had a lot of sympathy. The struggle kicked off during March 1984 and lasted a year. A regular feature of the news at this time were battles between huge numbers of police and the miners who were picketing.
New Age Travellers. The battle of the Beanfield in 1985 bought things to a head.
Dozens of travellers were injured and 537 arrested, thought to be the largest mass arrest in British legal history.
Police were found later guilty of ABH and 21 travellers were awarded damages for false imprisonment , damage to property and wrongful arrest.
There were instances in which the government tried to prosecute civil servants under the Official Secrets act.
Clive Ponting was a famous example; he had sent documents to Labour MP Tam Dalyell concerning the sinking of an Argentine ship the General Belgrano. (we look into this in more detail later). This was August 1984, he was taken to court and the jury were instructed by the judge to find him guilty, but they acquitted him. Ponting publicised other troubling news about secret biological warfare trials that had gone wrong in Scotland under a previous Conservative government which did not make anyone happier about nuclear power or nuclear weapons.
Various testimonies from the early 1980s show that there was a large expansion of surveillance at this time directed against Peace Groups
It was a time of ruthlessness in government and targeting enemies. It seemed that there was a secret statecontrolled by an arrogant and apparently omnipotent government. If there was ever a time to say that the UK had properly turned into a ‘Police State’ it was probably after the Falklands war in the early 1980s.
Trade unionists, peace activists and almost anyone else who disapproved of the Government watched for signs of the security services tapping their phones or reading their letters or bugging their meetings. It was joked that any Trade Union official not being bugged was not doing his/her job properly.
There were amusing incidents published in the media, WHICH HINTED AT THE PARONIA, such as when the West Midlands Special Branch were caught spying on a housewife whose only offence was to have written to a newspaper about nuclear weapons.
The European Court found that the London police were tapping phones illegally.
Devon and Cornwall Special Branch were ordered to weed their files when the new Chief Constable discovered the extent of their surveillance. (Yes in Devon and Cornwall)!
The Government tried to suppress the evidence of Peter Wright and Cathy Massiter, but both of them were to disclose how their former colleagues in MI5 had bugged and burgled and opened files on 'the enemy within'people that had done nothing illegal, just protesting against government policies.
Sarah Tisdale was made an example of when she leaked information about parliamentary tactics that the government would use to hide the date when Cruise missiles would be arriving in Britain to minimise protests. She was given six months in prison. The judges said that although the information she gave did not threaten national security, a message had to be sent to those who signed the Official Secrets Act.
All government workers have to sign this document as a condition of employment. I myself signed when I worked for Customs & Excise along, I suppose with millions of others in the UK who had not really considered what it was before.
Who was Hilda Murrell
Hilda Murrell was a 78 year old lady who was a passionate defender of the natural environment who was also described as an outspoken anti-nuclear campaigner.
She lived in a large brick house with a large slate roof called Ravenscroft, at 52 Sutton road in the Medieval town of Shrewsbury, Shropshire.
Hilda also had a holiday chalet (Fron Goch) on the Welsh-English border about half an hour away.
Hilda was well known in her hometown having been a Cambridge graduate in the 1920s and thinking of a career in academia, but instead she worked at the family horticultural business (founded 1837) as she was needed there. Hilda had many interests and had helped with various causes during her life.
Hilda was a member of CND and other pressure groups and a peace campaigner who had contacts with other activists and became well known in the Rose growing community and for her garden designs. When she retired and sold the business, Hilda spent her time trying to protect the environment and raising awareness of the dangers of the nuclear industry.
In 1978 she wrote a paper What Price Nuclear Power? in which she challenged the economic aspects of the civil nuclear industry and after the Three Mile Island accident in America in 1979 she became concerned about safety.
Hilda then turned her attention to the British government's policy on radioactive waste.
She wrote An Ordinary Citizen's view of Radio Active Waste Management which she was going to present the public inquiry into the Sizewell B nuclear reactor in Suffolk (1982-85). She was to become a formal objector to the proposed nuclear station on the Eastern coast of England.
Hilda wanted politicians to have an honest debate about the nuclear programme that they were trying to push through, in particular, how to ensure the safe containment of long-lived radioactive waste. Hilda thought that the Tory politicians had ‘sold out’ to Big Business.
Hilda had written to Margaret Thatcher (the PM) about her concerns, and as she was so persistent, experts on intelligence say that she would have come under the scrutiny of the Security Service and she would have been investigated by local Special Branch officers. A report would have been made for MI5 and then depending on the potential threat level; further courses of action would have been considered this may have included telephone tapping and mail intercepts and other actions undertaken by undercover agents.
What would have interested the Security Services would be that Hilda’s nephew (the son of her deceased sister) called Rob Green was involved in Naval Intelligence and had been involved in the sinking of the General Belgrano during the Falklands war. He had access to Top Secret information, and he had left the Navy in 1982 soon after the Falklands conflict had ended, he had twenty years’ service and it was suggested that he was unhappy over actions taken during the Falklands conflict. (Robert Green denied this)
Robert Green being a Naval intelligence officer with top security clearance. MI5 would have known that he knew that there were things to hide over the Falkland’s war, they probably knew that Rob Green was close to his Aunt Hilda and knew of her views on Nuclear issues and the Nuclear industry.
In 1984 The Nuclear industry comprised the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), the Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. There was the UK Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary who police the nuclear buildings in the UK. Many of the officers are armed and much of their activities are Top Secret, they sometimes went undercover to infiltrate protest groups.
It would not be unreasonable to conclude that the Security Services would have focussed in on the relationship between Green and Murrell and would have wanted to discover more information. Could Rob Green been leaking information to his aunt who in turn would pass it on to her contacts in the Peace and anti-nuclear movements?
In December 1983 after public pressure, There was an investigation into the sinking of the Belgrano ship, at the same time there were concerns about information leakages at GCHQ. Rob Green would have been a person of interest at this time. Especially as his aunt Hilda was working closely with a Pressure Group called ‘The European Group for Ecological Action (ECOROPA) when preparing her report for the Sizewell Inquiry.
ECOROPA distributed newsletters very critical of the nuclear industry, but a newsletter of early 1984 described the ‘truth of the sinking of the Belgrano’ saying that nuclear weapons had been taken to the South Atlantic during the war and some had been lost sinking to the bottom of the ocean. They also included information such as the exact location of the Belgrano when it was sunk which could have only come from classified information. Information that Rob Green had access to. Hilda had helped distribute these newsletters around Shrewsbury.
Hilda had a close friend she worked with on her Sizewell paper called Trina Guthrie, her partner was called Malcolm Leel whose father was a senior Signals Intelligence officer in the Ministry of Defence. Maybe MI5 wondered if Malcolm Leel could have access to information from his father?
During early 1984, the security services of MI5, Special Branch and the nuclear police would have been very active with the investigations into GCHQ leaks, the IRA, the Belgrano affair and the Sizewell Inquiry amongst other actions. Their manpower could not cope with the demands being imposed on it and they had to recruit private detectives to infiltrate groups that were perceived as hostile to the Thatcher government.
There can be little doubt that Hilda Murrell was under investigation mainly as a result of the Belgrano/GCHQ inquiry and her nephew and friendship with Malcolm. During early 1984, Hilda was very active with her contacts as she finished her presentation paper for the Sizewell inquiry.
Some of these contacts detected an air of uneasiness in Hilda, she suspected her phone calls were being monitored, her mail intercepted, her home bugged, and she claimed that a mysterious van was often parked opposite her house that was spying on her. Hilda had taken the precaution of sending a copy of her presentation to her nephew Rob Green for him to read on her behalf at the Sizewell inquiry in case anything happened to her.
Hilda had also asked friends if they would hide papers for her as she suspected people were trying to steal them from her.
One of Hilda’s contacts was Dr Don Arnott who was a retired nuclear scientist who was concerned about design faults with the proposed Sizewell nuclear reactor. A similar design had caused a melt down at Three Mile Island power station in America.
Don Arnott was supposed to make a presentation at the Sizewell inquiry and speak at other anti-nuclear events. He was unable to do so after suffering a heart attack which forced him to withdraw from opposing Sizewell. It has been suggested that he was drugged to induce a heart attack.
Arnott was under constant supervision being to foremost campaigner for nuclear safety and Hilda Murrell would have been known to have been briefed by him. Don Arnott’s concerns over the safety of the Sizewell Nuclear plant were later confirmed by leading scientists in the nuclear industry that were supporting Sizewell.
On the morning of Wednesday 21st March 1984, Hilda Murrell drove her white Renault 5 hatchback into Shrewsbury town centre to do some shopping at the Safeway store where she was seen, before driving back home.
She was then seen by a neighbour to park her car on the drive of her house and walk to a neighbour’s house to pay her neighbour raffle ticket money that she owed.
Hilda was wearing a large wide brimmed felt hat, brown coat, pleated tweed skirt, patterned thick stockings and shoes. She was seen to re-enter her house at around mid day on 21st March. The neighbour did not see her car assuming that she had parked it in the garage.
Hilda had a lunch arranged at a friend’s house in the village of Kinnerley (doctor Alicia Symmondson), at the time of her lunch invitation, at least 12 people saw Hilda’s car being driven dangerously through Shrewsbury A description of the driver was that a stocky male driver in his 30s with dark collar length hair neatly groomed, clean shaven with a narrow face and a sallow complexion. The passenger was a figure in a large, brimmed hat slumped in the passenger seat. One witness saw the slumped figure fall across the driver as he drove, and he pushed her back. It was initially thought that the passenger in the car was Hilda Murrell but there were later doubts over this, it may have been someone pretending to be her wanting witnesses to think Hilda was being driven in her car.
Between 12:50 and 13:00 the white Renault was seen in Hunkington with two occupants, the witness passed the site where the Renault was later found crashed in a ditch, they didn’t see a crashed car at that time. This indicates that the Renault returned to the spot in the ditch where it was to be found crashed at 13:15. It is suggested that the car was crashed when it was sure that there were no witnesses.
Four witnesses came forward later to say they saw the Renault jammed in a ditch in the hour after 13:00 but nobody was seen leaving the car.
At 14:00, a farmer, Jon Marsh came across Hilda’s car which had become stuck in a ditch in Hunkington Lane, a minor road that runs from the village of Withington and the ruins of Haughmond Abbey.
The farmer phoned the police twice that afternoon about the abandoned car and at 18.20 PC Paul Davis and his fellow rural beat officer PC Robert Eades went to examine the abandoned Renault. They found the door unlocked. They checked the identity of the car owner and where she lived from the national police computer, finding that it belonged to Hilda Murrell, an elderly woman. They checked the immediate area but saw no one. They decided that the car was not causing an obstruction and they left the scene at 18:30.
An officer at Shrewsbury police station phoned Hilda, there was no answer, and no further action was taken. The police had questions later asked of them such as when they found Hilda’s crashed car why did they not immediately visit her house and investigate?
At 16:30 on the afternoon of 21 March, Charles Bevan aged 21 and Christopher Watton stole the tax disc from the abandoned Renault, this was two hours before the police first inspected the car.
The farmer John Marsh phoned the police the next day and the day after making it clear to the police that he wanted the car off his land.
On Thursday 22nd March: In the morning at about 10:00am, a Mrs Reekie was passing Hilda’s house. She noticed a light being turned on behind closed curtains. Mrs Reekie was subsequently visited by police officers who did not seem to be local police as they lacked local knowledge. They did not ask her for a written statement.( it was later thought these were Special Branch officers pretending to be police).
It was on the Thursday afternoon that Ian Scott had been examining his trees at a small wood called Moat Copse with his dogs. He said that there was nothing untoward and certainly no body present at Moat Copse when he visited
The farmer Mr Marsh had reported that his farm workers had seen two strange men in the field next to Hilda’s car . There were also reports of a large dark saloon car driving slowly and stopping near to the abandoned Renault. The car stopped again a little further on and a man in a suit was walking in the area where the clothing was later found. During the evening a local resident observed lights and movements at Moat Copse.
Friday 23rd March : Various friends had tried to contact Hilda by phone but were getting a continuous ringing sound on both her numbers at home and her holiday chalet.
Hilda’s neighbour, Brian George, noticed that her kitchen door was open during the day
PC Davies phoned Shrewsbury police HQ saying that the farmer Jon Marsh had made yet another phone call about Hilda’s abandoned car and did they have any news about the owner? He was told that there was no reply to their phone calls.
PC Davies returned to the car and found it is as he had left it on the Wednesday and so he decided to take the initiative and visit Hilda’s house at 52 Sutton Road.
By the time he arrived, it was 7pm and raining, it was almost dark . The side door of the house was wide open, he knocked but there was no answer.
When Davies entered the house, there was a light on in the kitchen, the table was covered in papers and a women’s handbag but there appeared to be no one home. Davies, later saying, that he left because there was nothing suspicious!!
When he left, he secured the door and asked Shrewsbury police station to contact the house again. More unanswered phone calls were made, so it was arranged that a PC Lane visits early the next day Saturday 24th March.
During the afternoon, farmworkers passing Moat Copse saw what they described a police swarming around the area causing a rumour that there was a murder hunt in operation.
Another strange incident that occurred that even when a local man working as a sex counsellor, who was considered a credible witness said he was visited by two senior police officers in the early evening. They asked him about men who had sexual hang-ups about elderly women who may become excited and violent by entering an elderly woman’s bedroom and interfering with her clothing. The counsellor was puzzled by the visit but said that it made sense after he learnt of Hilda Murrell’s death but what was confusing was that the visit was before Hilda’s body had been discovered.
Saturday 24th March: PC Lane had gone to Ravenscroft at 7:00 and received no answer, he continued his routine patrol and returned to Ravenscroft at about 08.10. He made entry by climbing through the kitchen window to look around, as he was leaving, he spoke to Hilda’s neighbour Brian George (who grew vegetables in her large garden), he had just arrived at the property.
PC Lane said that he had found nothing untoward although the house was a little untidy. He had not gone into Hilda’s bedroom not wanting to disturb her ( in case she was in bed?). It seems that Hilda’s house was easy to gain entry to, the veranda door was not locked.
PC Lane then contacted local hospitals and suggested that a dog team start a search where her abandoned car was found.
After PC Lane had left, Brian George and a gardener employed by Hilda called David Williams decided to look around Ravenscroft themselves entry being made through the veranda door.
They discovered washing (sheets) on the floor, Hilda’s handbag on the scullery table with a pile of documents and papers, including papers on Sizewell; and there was three days post and newspapers beside the locked front door.
More worryingly, they found Hilda’s false teeth on the draining board of the sink, surely, they thought she would not go out without wearing them.
They searched upstairs and find closed curtains and drawers pulled open. It was thought unlikely that Hilda would leave the house untidy.
When they tried to call the police on the telephone, there was no dialling tone. When examining the telephone junction box, the telephone has been disabled by removing a wire that allows outgoing calls.
Brian George returned to his house to make some phone calls. He tried to phone Hilda at her week-end chalet to no avail.
Brian returned to Ravenscroft with his wife Betty and Hilda’s cleaning lady Mrs Latter to make another search, they arrange to meet PC Lane and a woman police constable at Ravenscroft. Brian George said that it was clear to him that a systematic search had been made of the house, even the loft had been searched in his opinion.
When Brian George was interviewed by the police there was a recording taken. It would be nine months later that he was given a transcript to sign as a statement.
At around the same time Brian George and David Williams are searching Ravenscroft, PC Eades was re-investigating Hilda’s Renault car left abandoned at Hunkington Lane. He had first investigated it three days earlier on the Wednesday with PC Davies. Muddy marks on the car indicate that it had collided with both sides of the banked verges and skidded on a left hand bend before swerving across the road into a ditch.
A Hamlet cigar wrapper and a poachers snare had both been found in the car both very unlikely to have belonged to Hilda.
PC Eades asked the local gamekeeper’s wife to help him search the area with her two gun dogs. By 10:00 they have made their way to Moat copse where they found the body of Hilda Murrell at about 10:40.
11:45, a woman police surgeon examined the body of Hilda,
Who thought it strange that the lack of blood from Hilda’s wounds, possibly indicating that they were inflicted after her death?
Hilda was wearing a brown overcoat but her legs were bare and she was naked from the waist down. Items of her clothing are scattered nearby. She had cuts on each hand which resembled defensive wounds.
There was bruising to her hip and shoulder, a cut under her right eye and her collarbone was fractured. There were non-fatal stab wounds to her arm and abdomen, but her death was caused by hypothermia, estimated at between five and ten hours after the injuries were received. It was thought that the corpse had not been moved after death, she had died at Moat copse.
The pathologist thought that death had occurred on the Wednesday, the injuries having been caused by a narrow bladed knife. (there was a wide bladed knife found near the body that had been taken from Hilda’s kitchen. It was later thought that this knife had been planted to make it seem that it had caused the injuries to Hilda but this was not possible, the knife that caused the injuries to Hilda was never found).
Rigor mortis was complete. Death was certified at noon. Hilda’s car keys were in her pocket.
nearby were Hilda’s smashed reading spectacles, her hat, moccasin style house boots and as already stated a large kitchen knife. Hilda’s body was 500 yards from Hunkington lane.
The only link that Hilda had been driven to the place where she was found dead, in her own car was her car keys found in her pocket. This later caused problems to the later theory concocted by the police, it seems more likely that the keys had been planted on her to make it seem that she had been in the car. Later theories that seemed to make more sense were that Hilda had been abducted from her home in a different car possibly a range rover that was seen, held at a safe house for torture and interrogation and later, her body dumped at Moat Copse late on the Thursday afternoon.
At 13.30 on the Saturday, detective Chief Superintendent David Cole arrived to take control of the matter and Hunkington Lane was closed apart from police vehicles. David Cole had been earlier been involved in the case regarding security leaks from GCHQ.
Cole thought that Hilda’s Renault car stuck in a muddy ditch seemed to have lost control further up the lane where the tyre marks have left the road swerving from side to side.
There was a hard covered book on British birds wedged under the offside tyre where it seems there has been an unsuccessful attempt for the car to gain traction from the ditch back onto the road.
When the car was later examined by the police, there were few finger prints, hardly any blood.
A later police theory was that Hilda had caused her abductor to crash into the ditch, when he tried to get the car back onto the road, she made off with the car keys, he followed her, forced her into Moat Copse, roughed her up and ran off back to Shrewsbury leaving her to die of hypothermia.
A running man had been seen between 1:30 and 2:30 when Hilda’s car crashed, he seemed to be making the car’s reverse trip back to Shrewsbury, 50 people had seen him, and he matched the description given as the driver of Hilda’s car a little earlier. The police carried out a re-enactment 10 days later when appealing for witnesses.
16:45 A Birmingham pathologist Dr Peter Acland supervised the removal of Hilda’s body to Copthorne hospital in Shrewsbury where Acland performed a three-hour autopsy which was later heavily criticised, especially as he did not carry out toxicology tests, (more of which later).
It seemed that the police’s theory was that Hilda had gone into her home, unpacked some of her shopping before going upstairs to change where upon she surprised a burglar. The burglar attacked her as she resisted, a stair bannister was broken in this struggle. She was possibly tied up in sheets and attached to the bannisters,
The police theory continued that the burglar then knocked her unconscious and took her downstairs and put her into her own car. Hilda’s abductor drove her away from Shrewsbury and after the car had got stuck in a ditch, he frogmarched her at knifepoint across a field to the hedge where her clothing was later found. Then she was dragged another 300 metres to a copse where her body was found.
The theory put forward by the police apart from being improbable and having no evidence to support it, has a number of objections to it.
I won’t go into all the objections as that would be tedious but briefly, the police seem to think that this burglar would have bundled her body through the front door, put her into the car and then return to lock and bolt the front door (as this is how it was found) and leave through another entrance.
It was thought improbable that a man could force Hilda across muddy fields to where she was later found without being seen.
There was also the questions, why would a burglar not escape immediately that he heard a car on the drive?
Why would a burglar abduct an old lady in her car?
During the West Mercia police investigations, a parallel inquiry was taking place by West Mercia Special Branch who were investigating Hilda’s friends and contacts. It was claimed that the Special Branch officers pretended to be ordinary police officers.
The Shrewsbury criminal fraternity were not impressed with the police theory. Micky Bridgewater was one of a hundred burglars questioned by the police, he said to the local press that he was convinced that a local man was not responsible. A burglar would not abduct a victim or stay in the house if disturbed.
Had it of been a local man, he would not have turned right and driven through town and past the police station. Instead, he would have taken a left turn which would had led quickly to a rural area.
Anyhow, Micky Bridgewater said that he would have heard through the local criminal grapevine if a local man was involved, and he would have informed to the police as ‘You don’t hurt an old girl living on her own’.
Then to cause further doubt on the police theory, a local landowner Ian Scott was in Moat Copse on Thursday 22nd March at 15:30. He was with his dogs inspecting 170 poplar trees he was going to fell.
On Monday 26th March he learnt that Hilda’s body was thought by the police to have been in the copse at this time. Ian Scott came forward to tell the police that this was not possible, she was not there on the Thursday. There was no way that he could have been mistaken, he said that he would have found a dead rabbit let alone a dead body.
Photographs of the crime scene show Hilda’s body as it was found. You can judge for yourself as I have put photographs on the website, it is quite clear that the body was clearly visible, there had been no attempt to hide it. The Police report said that Ian Scott (and his dogs?) would have been concentrating on his trees and not looking at the ground which was undulating and had vegetation obscuring the ground. The photographs prove this to be nonsense. The police were either ignoring evidence that did not fit with their explanation or they were deluding themselves.
There did seem to be a number of issues about the investigation into the murder of Hilda Murrell that did not seem make much sense.
There were witnesses that seemed to have something important to say that were ignored by the police, such as Gerard Morgan-Grenville, who we have discussed earlier.
Also her old friend Constance Purcer (Con) who lived in an isolated position near the village of Aston Munslow about 20 miles from Shrewsbury. Hilda had visited Con about a week before she died when she seemed anxious. She told Con that she had prepared a paper protesting the Sizewell Nuclear Power station and had shown it to influential people who were impressed with it.
Hilda told Con that she felt that she was under surveillance and was concerned about the security of her home in Shrewsbury, she had been intimidated by people. Hilda asked Con to look after the report she had prepared to present at the Sizewell Inquiry, but Con, an elderly lady, was scared to have it in her house and declined to keep it.
The police were not interested in taking a statement from Con, she felt that the police did not take her seriously.
Similarly, another person called Laurens Otter a founding member of CND said that he received a phone call from Hilda Murrell from a public call box on the morning that she went missing. She told him that she was under surveillance, her phone was tapped, attempts had been made to break into her home and she wanted safe keeping for a paper that she had prepared for the Sizewell B inquiry. It was arranged for them to meet that evening. But Hilda never showed up. The police claimed he was an unreliable witness because he could not corroborate his story and he had been late by some months coming forward with his story.
A number of witnesses said that they felt that the police were treating them with contempt, or at least were not taking them seriously.
Others said that they felt that the police were just going through the motions of investigating knowing that they would not find the murderer of Hilda Murrell.
A number of detectives had been suspended from duty for ‘bunking off’ from investigating in order to play golf. Press allegations were made that the officers were aware that they were not supposed to find the murderer(s).
It was also thought strange that Special Branch had been bought into the investigation at an early stage that seemed more interested in researching Hilda’s activities and contacts.
Some people believed that although Hilda Murrell was supposed to have been found dead on Saturday 24th March 1984, her death was known to the authorities before this date.
Questions would be later asked as to why the police ignored the mass of evidence provided from reliable witnesses at the time of Hilda going missing from her home. Suspicious people and vehicles around Ravenscroft and the crashed Renault at Hunkington.
The police were informed of various suspicious people seen in the week up to Hilda’s abduction by neighbours who came forward after her death was announced.
There were also reports of a red Ford Escort, a Range Rover and a White van.
On the day that Hilda went missing, that morning when she left for the shops three men were seen to go into the grounds at Ravenscroft, one of whom matched the description later seen driving Hilda’s Renault car towards Hunkington.
Ravenscroft with its high walls and outbuildings and large garden gave many places for someone to hide and keep watch on the house. The garden of Ravenscroft was flanked by an overgrown alleyway which allowed easy access to the garden, Hilda often had problems with young boys stealing fruit from her garden.
At noon on the day Hilda went missing a neighbour saw a white van parked in the drive, possibly a Toyota Hiace,
At 12:45 Hilda’s Renault car was seen leaving Ravenscroft on the start of its journey through Shrewsbury to Hunkington where it will be found crashed in a ditch. By a coincidence one of those who saw the Renault leaving the road in which Hilda lived was the police surgeon who was to examine Hilda’s body in Moat copse three days later.
a little while later at 12.20pm another witness saw what she thought was a Range Rover speeding out of the drive of Ravenscroft.
So there is much evidence that three vehicles were seen at Ravenscroft when Hilda went missing, two of which Hilda’s Renault and the Range Rover left were seen driving away. Robert Green thought that Hilda’s Renault was a decoy vehicle while the Range rover took away Hilda’s drugged body for interrogation at a safe house.(as per Ulster snatch squad scenario). It is thought that once Hilda was deposited at the safe house, a message was sent to the decoy vehicle (the Renault) to set off.
Well that seems to be a convenient place to conclude part one.