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News > Pangbournian Stories > Book Reviews > A Thorn in their side by Robert Green

A Thorn in their side by Robert Green

Robin Knight reviews the intriguing story of the murder of the leading anti nuclear campaigner Hilda Murrell as told by her nephew Robert Green (57-62).
20 Jun 2023
Written by Robin Knight
Book Reviews
A Thorn in their side.
A Thorn in their side.

A THORN IN THEIR SIDE

by ROBERT GREEN (57-62)

(2013; pp389; Rata Books, New Zealand; ISBN: 978-1-78219-428-6)

This book, ostensibly about the murder in 1984 of a renowned 78-year-old rose-grower and leading anti-nuclear campaigner, in reality rapidly turns into a cloak-and-dagger account of attempts, apparently by the British security services both in the UK and New Zealand, to intimidate those protesting about the unsolved problem of radioactive waste, the construction of new nuclear facilities in the United Kingdom and the use of nuclear weapons – of whom the author, the nephew of the victim Hilda Murrell, is one.

When the book was first sent to the OP Society, Lionel Stephens replied in part as follows:

“…It is just about the most depressing book I have read for many years. As I proceeded, I wondered why I knew so little about your aunt's death, although I remember well Tam Dalyell and the Belgrano affair and carefully followed the Leveson inquiry about David Kelly…I have only two points to make. Firstly, while I have always believed in British justice, I just cannot understand how Andrew George came to be found guilty (of the murder), and then lost his appeal. How on earth can this have happened? The second point is that after you emigrated to NZ you were still severely harassed. What could those who pursued you have hoped to achieve? Or was it pure vindictiveness?”

This was written around 2012. The book was never reviewed and lay unnoticed at the College, along with another by Rob Green Security Without Nuclear Deterrence, until very recently. In the meantime, a new edition of this book was published in 2013. By then Rob Green had long-retired from the Royal Navy and was living far away on the South Island of New Zealand. Yet, nearly 30 years after the murder of his aunt, he continued to be harried by unknown threatening individuals. In other words, this is a very murky tale which will probably never be settled unless or until secret files held at The National Archives in Kew are released to the public.

For a Pangbournian reader in 2023, when energy security has become an abiding national concern, the ceiling on the UK’s nuclear weapons stockpile has been raised 16% to 260 because of new technological threats, Hinkley Point and Sizewell nuclear plants are being expanded, and Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin is threatening the West with nuclear weapons as the war in Ukraine grinds on, the interest lies far more in Rob Green’s own role in this affair which he weaves skilfully into the narrative, bit by bit. Some context therefore is in order.

At the time of the 1982 Falklands War Rob was a 20-year RN veteran – a Commander with a background in naval flying who at the time worked for Naval Intelligence and was on the staff of Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, Commander-in-Chief Fleet, at Northwood. An unusual, thoughtful officer who for personal reasons had applied for voluntary redundancy before the conflict began and was known to be unhappy about both nuclear weapons and certain aspects of the war – in particular, the sinking of the Argentine cruiser Belgrano some 59 miles outside the UK-imposed exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands – he found himself dragged in to Tam Dalyell MP’s attempts in parliament get to the bottom of the truth about the Belgrano.

Before long, as Green began to dig into his aunt’s murder and research this book, he found himself the target of repeated official and unofficial attempts to “dissuade” him including hostile police questioning, break-ins to his home, threatening phone calls and phone tapping. When these failed to deter his search for the truth, rumours spread around that he was Dalyell’s source – but also an individual who was leaking UK nuclear secrets related both to the Falklands War and UK military strategy to the media and therefore a traitor.

Post-1984, life went on. Green left the RN, became a thatcher but stopped this in 1990 due to tennis elbow. The unsolved Murrell murder cropped up from time to time but without any resolution. Then, in the run-up to the first Gulf War in 1991, he decided to speak out against nuclear weapons having “found my niche” as chair of the British affiliate of an international campaign called the World Court Project. This organisation challenged the legality of nuclear deterrence in the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

In 1992 his wife divorced him, and later that year he met a veteran New Zealand peace and environmental campaigner called Kate Dewes. Today the couple live near Christchurch in New Zealand and lead an organisation known as the Disarmament & Security Centre. He has written four books including A Thorn In Their Side and, in 2010, Security Without Nuclear Deterrence .

The latter book is not an easy read being, in effect, a powerful and sustained dissection and critique of the policies and theories sustaining the “independent” British nuclear deterrent. If anything, by 2018 when a new edition of this book was published (Spokesman Books; £14.99; ISBN 9780-85214-8721), his convictions had strengthened and his arguments become more polished. Nuclear deterrence, he writes, “is impractical, politically unsound and counter-productive to our real security needs as well as immoral and illegal.”

A Thorn In Their Side stands as a very thorough, deeply researched, well organised and well written account of a shoddy episode in contemporary British history. It ends with a compilation of Rob Green’s outstanding concerns about the Hilda Murrell case. There are more than 50 of them. The list was compiled a decade ago, but many of them remain relevant – and unanswered. In 2013 Green was demanding a Commission of Inquiry “to prevent further corrupt, politicised abuse of the system of British justice and governance.” Nothing has happened since. He admits to often feeling like giving up his quest for the truth. But as both these books underline, that seems highly unlikely.

by ROBIN KNIGHT (56-61)  

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