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From Trained Nuclear Killer to Peace Activist - the story of Commander Robert Green formerly of the British Navy

Part 3

Dorothy - 25/6/03

Events following the murder of Hilda Murrell

Hilda Murrell
Hilda Murrell
Hilda's Fatal Three Mile Island and Falklands Connections
Why was Hilda Murrell murdered? She was a 78 year-old woman devoted to the conservation of the best in life - a former successful professional rosegrower, and a botanist of considerable skill who was currently working on the hazards of radioactive waste. Fascinated by the rich history of the British Isles, she was a true patriot, passionately striving to preserve the British cultural heritage for future generations.

Rob Green gives the known facts and comments on what happened. "On 21 March 1984, Hilda was preparing to testify as an independent objector on radioactive waste management problems at the first public enquiry into a nuclear power plant in Britain, at Sizewell in Suffolk. At about midday, following a break-in at her home when nothing of financial value except a little cash was stolen, she was apparently abducted in her own car, which was seen being driven erratically by several witnesses. It was quickly reported abandoned on the side of a lane just outside her home town Shrewsbury in Shropshire; but the police took nearly three days to find her mutilated body in a wood nearly half a mile across fields from the car. Despite one of the biggest police investigations in Britain in the twentieth century, the case remains unsolved. She has been dubbed the 'British Karen Silkwood'.

"In my pursuit of the truth there have been several attempts to intimidate me, perhaps because of my public criticisms of the police theory that it had been simply a bungled burglary. Suspicions grew that some evidence had been either planted or suppressed in order to mislead the police, which is indicative of state interference. Indeed, there is reason to believe that this happened in a state-sponsored abduction of Hilda, using her car as a decoy, to a safe house for interrogation after which she was left to be found as an example to discourage others.

"It appears that she became a victim of the paranoia surrounding the Thatcher government at the time. This centred on the controversial torpedoing of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano by the nuclear attack submarine HMS Conqueror during the Falklands War, about which I wrongly came under suspicion for leaking classified information to a very persistent Labour politician, Tam Dalyell, who also happened to be pro-nuclear energy. I now know that a crucial letter from Tam Dalyell reached Michael Heseltine, then Secretary of state for Defence, two days before Hilda was abducted. He later admitted to the Parliamentary Defence Select Committee that this letter - showing that Tam was receiving secret information - caused him to unleash the Security Services to try to stop the leak.

"A second political motive derived from the fact that Hilda was taking advice from several more radical anti-nuclear activists, including a retired British scientist called Don Arnott who had dropped out of the Sizewell Inquiry after a mysterious heart attack. 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 had met him at his first public lecture after recovering from his heart attack just over a month before she was murdered, and it may have been suspected that he had asked her to present his testimony by proxy (which he did not)."

After nineteen years' research, Rob says he has reason to believe - but no proof - that she was murdered "because of what the British government and nuclear industry feared she knew. It was not her criticisms of the government's policy on nuclear waste, which were no threat. It was what she might have learned from Don (but didn't) about the main cause of the meltdown at Three Mile Island: a fundamental design flaw in the pressurised water reactor - namely the low melting point of the alloy in the control rods - which had been covered up." This design was adopted by the British government after strong pressure from Mrs Thatcher.

Don Arnott, whom Hilda had approached for a brush-up on her nuclear physics, had stumbled on this design flaw. He was spied on and intimidated by the nuclear industry, which prevented him from pursuing it. The industry then moved against Hilda because of her connection with him - though he never briefed her on his control rod fears. Rob claims that "the inquest was a farce. The police refused to let me see the autopsy report; a key witness was not allowed to testify; Hilda's phone had been interfered with. Then I began to experience harassment in my pursuit of the truth."

Taking up Hilda's torch
Rob went on: "This whole process radicalised me. I realised that the entire British system had been corrupted and poisoned by nuclearism." Then Chernobyl happened, followed by a big planning inquiry into a second pressurised water reactor to be built not far from where Rob lived. He attended as an independent objector and used Hilda's money to bring in expert witnesses. He also researched the control rod design flaw with the retired scientist whom Hilda had interviewed, and they testified as a team. They learned a lot more about the nuclear industry and the design problem, and this hardened Rob's resolve to pursue it further.

Rob Feared Nuke Use in first Gulf War
He tried to keep clear of nuclear weapons; but this became harder with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the difficulties for the Navy resulting from the Trident decision. But it was the first Gulf War which finally forced Rob to speak out. "Here was a scenario where nuclear weapons really could be used. My Naval Intelligence training told me that, if provoked by a Western punitive expedition, Saddam Hussein would be tempted to attack Israel in order to split the coalition and draw Israel in. If he used chemical-headed Scud missiles, then nothing could stop Israel from retaliating with nuclear weapons." But Rob feared that the entire Arab world would then erupt in outrage, and Israel's security would be destroyed forever: "The ultimate own goal."

Two days before the air war began, Rob spoke out against nuclear weapons to 20,000 anti-Gulf War demonstrators from the foot of Nelson's Column ("of all places!"). It was very traumatic: "I felt I was going through the intellectual equivalent of withdrawal from hard drug addiction. I was breaking out of not just my pro-nuclear brainwashing: I felt I was committing high treason, and would be branded disloyal by my former naval friends. The British military establishment is deeply tribal, and has powerful ways of discouraging heretics." He was therefore much relieved when the only criticism came from an ex-Colonel pundit before appearing with him on TV. "He said:'Of course you're entitled to your views, old boy; but do you have to wear your heart on your sleeve?' I replied:'It's not my heart - it's my brain.' He just walked away."

Rob continued: "In the event, Israel suffered 38 Scud attacks. For the first time, a nuclear-armed state had been attacked and its capital threatened - and by a non-nuclear state too. Israelis cowering in gas-masks in their basements must have wondered what had happened to their nuclear deterrent.

"Meanwhile, in London the IRA came close to wiping out the British Cabinet with mortar bombs fired from a van. Polaris was not only totally irrelevant in dealing with such a terrorist attack: it encouraged terrorists to try to get hold of nuclear weapons."

One of Rob's inspirations came from another former British naval officer. As early as 1979, in the last speech before he was murdered, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten had stated: "I have never been able to accept the reasons for the belief that any class of nuclear weapons can be categorised in terms of their tactical or strategic purposes... the nuclear arms race has no military purpose. Wars cannot be fought with nuclear weapons."

Rob points out that, even when a nuclear state is facing defeat by a non-nuclear state, the nuclear state has been known to accept such defeat rather than escalate the conflict by using nuclear weapons. The USA withdrew from Korea and Vietnam, and the USSR from Afghanistan, rather than resorting to nuclear revenge. However, a leader like Thatcher facing political disaster could be tempted to use nuclear weapons.

In spite of Israel's nuclear capability Saddam Hussein attacked it with Scud missiles. It became increasingly clear to Rob that nuclear deterrence doesn't work.

Now read Part 4 Citizen campaigns to persuade nuclear state governments to comply with the World Court Decision

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