Orders of the Day — Miss Hilda Murrell

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:23 am on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow 1:23 am, 26th June 1985

I raised the case of Hilda Murrell under the Consolidated Fund at 4 am on 20 December, 1984.

Owing to parliamentary good fortune, which so often smiles on just causes, I am able to raise the topic again at 1.20 am on the day after assistant chief constable Peter Smith gave a press conference on the report.

Why did the assistant chief constable of Northumbria, Mr. Peter Smith, hold a press conference yesterday, Wednesday, to answer questions about the murder of Miss Hilda Murrell without publishing the full report of his review of how the West Mercia constabulary had conducted its inquiries? Will the Minister place a copy of Mr. Smith's report in the House of Commons Library?

Whose decision is it not to publish the report? Is it that of the chief constable of West Mercia, of Mr. Smith, or of the Home Office? If Ministers wish to convince an increasingly interested and sceptical public, would it not be in their own interest to publish?

If the report were published, some light might be thrown on the many questions raised first of all by the Cecil Woolf book "The Death of a Rose Grower", by Graham Smith, and then by the New English Library's "Who Killed Hilda Murrell?", by Judith Cook, as well as by the excellent television programmes by Harlech by "World in Action" and the BBC "Crime Watch".

Why are the police so convinced that this is an "ordinary burglary gone wrong" when they have not succeeded after 15 months in finding the person or persons responsible and there are so many extraordinary aspects to this case, particularly the abduction of Miss Murrell in her own car?

A secret report on activities that are shrouded in secrecy cannot dispel fear and mistrust. Some of the questions that I had hoped the inquiry report would answer raise issues of public concern.

Was there an inquiry into leaks concerning GCHQ Cheltenham and the Belgrano, commissioned by Sir Robert Armstrong, Secretary of the Cabinet at the end of 1983? Was intelligence told to identify the origin of leaks of information about the Belgrano? Was Commander Robert Green on the list of possible suspects? Was the home of his aunt checked for information? Has Mr. Smith approached Sir Robert Armstrong?

What is the nature of the relationship between the official security services and unofficial private detective agencies? Is it true that Sir Robert Armstrong has close connections with a director of Zeus Security Consultants, as reported in the Daily Star of 13 June 1985? Has any Government Department ever employed, directly or indirectly, either Zeus Security Consultants or the Sapphire Investigation Bureau?

Was Miss Murrell under surveillance at any time? Specifically, was her telephone tapped? Was she on the files of the special branch, locally or nationally? Has Mr. Smith looked into the records of the Shrewsbury special branch?

Has the burglary at Commander Hurst's home been investigated for a possible connection with the Belgrano? How do the police account for the fact that no valuables were taken and that only Commander Hurst's flat, not those on the top or ground floors, was burgled? Has the coincidence of the time — a few hours after my speech at 4 am on 20 December, but before any newspaper reports of that speech—been investigated and explained?

In relation to Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Norris and Mr. Peachman, were any of the aforementioned questioned by police concerning either the Sizewell inquiry or the murder of Miss Murrell, and with what outcome? Did any of them work on commission, directly or indirectly, for a government department? At whose request and on whose authority? If they denied involvement with burglaries connected with the Sizewell inquiry, what further steps were taken to establish whether these denials were true? Who did commission each of the above to work on Sizewell concerns?

Why was the way in which Miss Murrell's car was left regarded as suspicious by members of the community but apparently not by the police? Why did it take so long to find the body? Why did the police officer who visited Miss Murrell's house on Friday night not notice anything wrong, when her neighbours on the following day noticed scattered contents of her handbag and three days' post at the front door? Did the police officer enter the house or not? Did he seek to make contact with Miss Murrell? If he did not enter the house, why did he go away before discussing the abandoned car with her?

Has the red Ford Escort, to which much reference has been made, been found? I refer to pages 66 and 67 of the excellent book by Graham Smith. Have the red Ford Escorts, variously reported near her home and near the site where the body was found, been located and their owners interviewed? Do the reports refer to the same car?

Are the police looking for one or more than one suspect? In view of the differences between the photofit pictures and the accounts of the grey-suited running man and the man in the dark anorak, has the possibility of a team operation been fully investigated, and with what results? Has any possible connection with the red Escort been ruled out?

The two boys who supposedly stole and later burned the tax disc from Miss Murrell's car claimed that there were papers in the car. Is that true? Were they recovered? Are the boys lying?

How can the evidence of Mr. Ian Scott be accounted for? He maintained that no body was in the copse on Thursday 22 March. How do the police evaluate this evidence and the possibility that the body was moved? Has any progress been made on reports of a large dark car near the site where the body was found or on reports of lights in the wood on Thursday 22 March? I refer to pages 37 and 80 of Graham Smith's excellent book.

How was the telephone at Miss Murrell's Shrewsbury home disconnected? Were the wires ripped out, or were they disconnected in a more sophisticated manner? Her neighbour, Mr. Brian George, told me that the telephone wires had been disconnected in a professional way. As to the phone at Llanymynech, if it was damaged by lightning, why is there no record of lightning at the time in question? When did the fault develop, and when was it reported? The Home Secretary's answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was extremely unconvincing.

Are the details of the report by Steve Doughty in The Standard of 2 February 1985 accurate in relation to the telephones? If they are accurate, the scene of the crime, which was videod, must have been fixed. If they are inaccurate, we should be told.

When was Miss Murrell's car reported missing and its details checked? By whom? What information was given or received at each stage? What was Commander Green told about the reason for the delay in locating the owner of the car? If the police quickly established that the car belonged to Miss Murrell, an elderly local dignitary, why did they not contact her home immediately, and why, when an officer went to her home, did he leave before ensuring that she was safe and well?

What questions were put to Mr. Gary Murray, a private detective, when he was questioned by officers of the West Mercia special branch in April? Were the officers told of Mr. Murray's belief that Hilda Murrell would have been under surveillance from other private detectives? Why did West Mercia detectives go on a so-called "fishing expedition" for information about peace campaigners when they questioned Miss Murrell's friends about her murder, as reported in Graham Smith's book at pages 34 and 35?

Are the police looking for a local man as chief suspect? Would a local man drive past the police station or through the town, rather than head for open country? If the chief suspect is a local man, why has he not been located? All this effort, yet one recalls the sight on Harlech television of a local burglar saying that, had it been a local Shrewsbury burglar, they would all have known each other and he would have been reported to the police immediately. Are there any other known cases of a burglar being disturbed and abducting a house owner in his or her own car? Are there any similar cases in the area?

Is the account in the New Statesman of 25 January true? It states: A man who is an accredited counsellor to people with sexual problems was visited by police before Miss Murrell's body was discovered and asked if he knew of anyone fitting the description of a loner who might break into women's bedrooms and be violent. That is at page 33 of Mr. Smith's book.

In summary, the main areas of concern for many people are as follows. First, who was responsible for the death of Hilda Murrell? Why, 15 months after the murder, has it proved impossible to find those responsible? Secondly, why have the official accounts given of the murder revealed unexplained delays in following important lines of inquiry and conflicting accounts of factual evidence? Thirdly, why have British citizens who have not engaged in illegal activities been subjected to surveillance, burglaries and other forms of harassment by members of the security services or those working for them? Fourthly, is political control of the security services, on which Judith Cook writes powerfully, and those working at their request adequate to protect fully the civil rights of British citizens?

To allay public concern about the murder of Hilda Murrell, the Government should give a full and public account of steps taken so far in the inquiry, and publicly demonstrate, in a way that leaves no reasonable doubt, that there was no involvement in these tragic events b) or instigated by the security services. Public confidence can be fully restored only when such authoritative evidence is made known and when all possible steps have been taken to find the murderer of Miss Murrell.

When did the West Mercia special branch begin inquiries into Miss Murrell's murder? Why did the Minister say last December that special branch officers had already investigated the possibility of a link between the murder and the Sizewell B public inquiry when the private detectives who were spying on objectors to that inquiry were not questioned until April? What caused the delay?

Several church leaders have followed this case with interest and concern. Although they have not yet made a formal approach to the Home Office or any public statement, we know that they are worried by the failure to find the person or persons responsible for Miss Murrell's death, and the failure to date to provide a clear and convincing account of the murder.

In her remarkable book "Who killed Hilda Murrell?", which has just been published, Judith Cook documents 14 serious discrepancies in the appendix between the official accounts and the independently established accounts.

Finally, if I seem extremely sceptical about Government answers, I can only refer to Clive Ponting's "The Right to Know". On page 133, for example, he states that Sir Clive Whitmore's view was that we were not telling a direct lie. Sir Clive Whitmore argued that it was all right to imply that, so long as we did not explicitly state it as being correct. If Ministers are pained that I do not accept the Government's word, I can only say to them that between 1962 and 1979 I used automatically to accept the word of a Government, of either party. After my experience in court No. 2 at the old Bailey day after day at the Ponting trial I may be forgiven for asking for detail and proof. Let Peter Smith's report be published in full so that it can be scrutinised.