After 20 years, man jailed for peace activist's murder

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The Independent Online

Two decades of conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of the anti-nuclear campaigner, Hilda Murrell, were brought to an end yesterday when a labourer was convicted of killing her during a botched burglary.

MI5 agents and henchmen working for the nuclear industry have been among those suspected of abducting the 78-year-old from her home in Shrewsbury in 1984 and leaving her to freeze to death in woodland. The elderly peace campaigner was sexually assaulted and stabbed four times during the attack.

But the more incredible theories surrounding the murder were refuted after a jury convicted a man, who was in care at the time of the killing, of the murder during a break-in that went wrong.

Andrew George, who was 16 when he committed the crime, was given a life sentence at Stafford Crown Court. The killer had been questioned about the murder at the time, when arrested for another burglary, but was released. It was only when, due to advances in DNA testing, it became possible to match a sample taken from semen stains on Miss Murrell's underwear with his genetic profile that he was rearrested in 2003.

The murder has become a cause célêbre among anti-nuclear campaigners and conspiracy theorists.

At least two authors have claimed Murrell was killed by a team working for security services who had bungled a search of her home. Miss Murrell had been preparing to give evidence in the public inquiry into the proposed Sizewell B nuclear reactor. It later emerged that the pro-nuclear lobby had placed protesters under surveillance, although Miss Murrell was not on a leaked list of "targets".

The fact that her nephew, Commander Robert Green, was a naval intelligence officer during the Falklands war led to speculation of MI5 plots and claims that she had been drawn into the controversy over the sinking of the Argentinian cruiser, the General Belgrano.

The former Labour MP, Tam Dalyell, claimed in December 1984 that she had been killed by "men of the British intelligence" looking for documents on the sinking of the ship. During the multimillion-pound police inquiry, officers were forced to investigate the claims that MI5, British intelligence or other agents of the state had killed her.

Miss Murrell was found dead three days after disappearing from her detached home in Shrewsbury on 21 March 1984. According to the prosecution, the case was a burglary that went seriously wrong. George tied Miss Murrell to a banister and sexually assaulted her, before stabbing her and bundling her into her car and driving to a copse more than six miles away. He stabbed her again and dumped her partially clothed body.

The body was not found for several days until a farmer noticed the abandoned car, a Renault 4, and friends had become concerned about her well-being. The police found her phone was off the hook and the telephone wires had been ripped out of a junction box.

George, now a 37-year-old labourer from Shrewsbury, was on a list of more than 1,800 potential suspects for the murder compiled in the months after the killing,

He was arrested on an unconnected matter within a week of the killing, but was released after telling officers that he had been playing games in a Woolworth's shop in Shrewsbury at the time of the abduction.

George sobbed in the dock yesterday and shouted abuse after he was found guilty. The jury took more than 13 hours to reach its unanimous verdict.

Recommending that he should serve at least 15 years before being considered for parole, Mr Justice Wakerley described the killing as unspeakable, adding: "The last hours of poor Mrs Murrell were truly awful."

But despite the conviction, the controversy surrounding the case continues. Speaking outside the court, Miss Murrell's nephew, Robert Green, said: "The full story of what happened to Hilda has not emerged. There are many unanswered questions."

Mr Green refused to elaborate on the claim but said he believed there were other intruders at Miss Murrell's house and appeared to question the crime as "just a burglary".

Asked whether he thought George was innocent, he said: "I believe that the conviction may be unsafe."