In March 1984, the peace of the pretty English town of Shrewsbury was shattered by the brutal murder of one of its most respected citizens - Hilda Murrell. This renowned plantswoman and passionate anti-nuclear campaigner was abducted from her home, killed, and dumped in a wood outside the town. `Bungled burglary', said the police. `State crime', said Hilda's friends, citing the fact that she was due to deliver a paper at the first British planning inquiry into a controversial new nuclear power plant at Sizewell on the Suffolk coast. Unusual occurrences reported by several of Hilda's friends around the time of her death were summarily dismissed by the police, adding to the sense that a cover-up was going on. When Labour MP Tam Dalyell, pursuing the truth about the sinking of the General Belgrano in the Falklands War, said his sources had confirmed British intelligence involvement in Hilda's murder, the tale took yet another strange twist.
All these events had a profound effect on Hilda's nephew Robert Green, a former Commander with the Royal Navy. Convinced burglary was not the murder motive and increasingly disillusioned with police handling of the case, he began his own enquiries and persisted despite intense harassment from shadowy forces. In 2011, 27 years after his aunt's death, Green's painstaking research culminated in this extraordinary book "A Thorn in their Side", written in conjunction with his wife Kate Dewes.
Green's and Dewes' exemplary detective work has pieced together a jigsaw of mind-boggling complexity. Who could ever imagine that such a huge, and extraordinarily clumsy, operation would be required to eliminate a responsible, highly intelligent patriotic woman exercising her democratic right to protest? Unpicking the police version of events, the book uncovers dramatic DNA evidence, previously withheld, showing that the lone burglar finally convicted of the murder was not the man Hilda fought with in her house.
"A Thorn in Their Side" can be read on many levels - here are three of them. For those new to the story it could be the whodunit to end all whodunits, except that, as Nigel Chamberlain says in his Amazon review, the perpetrators were never caught. At another level it is a shocking expose of the dark forces and paranoia that lurk beneath the glossy veneer of western democracies. Nothing new about this of course, but Green's book punches the message home with a blow that knocks you off your feet and cannot be ignored.
At the third and perhaps most poignant level, it is an account of Robert Green's personal journey during his courageous pursuit of the truth about Hilda. This book is an incredible achievement both in the extent of its research and in the determination that drove the project. Anyone with the average quota of moral fibre would, given the endlessly frustrating official obfuscation, incessant harassment and intimidation, have given up on the quest more than a decade ago. Instead, Green's determination and tenacity are an inspiring and deeply moving foil to the evils that his book exposes - a gleam of gold in the dark.