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

Contents

Life

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, Hilda won a scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge (1924–27). She graduated with an MA in English and French literature, and Modern and Mediaeval Languages.

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'Aranyi.

Under her management, Edwin Murrell Ltd enjoyed its final golden years from 1949-70. Hilda 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 Austin gained her approval to name a rose after her just three weeks before she was murdered.

Walking, especially in hill country, was one of Hilda'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.

Hilda'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.

Having predicted the 1973 oil crisis, Hilda 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. Hilda, 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.

Hilda's 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.”

Murder

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 quickly reported abandoned in a country lane five miles outside Shrewsbury, but the West Mercia Police took another three days to find her mutilated 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".

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 Hilda's death when he announced in Parliament early on 20 December 1984 that British Intelligence had been involved. Until then only her anti-nuclear work had been suspected as a political motive.

She was cremated and her ashes scattered at Maengwynedd, in Wales. A commemorative stone was unveiled in Tanybryn, Llanrhaeadr in 2004 in a birch grove planted on the tenth anniversary of her death.

Trial of Andrew George

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.[1]

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.[2] 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."[3] In June 2006 the Court of Appeal upheld the murder conviction, saying there was nothing unsafe about the verdict returned against George.[4]

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."

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 (1989), which was the novel of 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.

References

Bibliography

  • Hilda Murrell's Nature Diaries 1961-1983, edited by Charles Sinker Pub: Collins 1987 ISBN 0-00-412186-4
  • Unlawful Killing: Murder of Hilda Murrell Judith Cook, Pub: Bloomsbury, 1994 ISBN 0-7475-1822-X
  • Death of a Rose Grower: Who Killed Hilda Murrell? Graham Smith, Pub: Cecil Woolf 1985 ISBN 0-900821-76-0
  • Enemies of the State, Gary Murray, Pub: Simon & Schuster 1993 ISBN 0-671-71194-6
  • The Detective and the Doctor: A Murder Casebook, D J Cole and P R Acland, Pub: Robert Hale 1994 ISBN 0-7090-5355-X

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