Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Challenging and intriguing assignment for Masterton-based book publisher - A Thorn in Their Side: The Hilda Murrell Murder
Ian and Diane Grant’s ‘Fraser Books’ imprint has now appeared on about 150 books, with notable titles including Sonja Davies’ Bread & Roses back in 1984 and Grant’s Redvers’ Tara Arctic: A New Zealander’s Epic Voyage which won the Australasian non-fiction section in the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards.
Just last week, though, one of their most challenging and intriguing assignments came to fruition. For the last six months, as ‘publishing consultants’, they have worked with authors Robert Green and Kate Dewes in complete secrecy on A Thorn in Their Side: The Hilda Murrell Murder.
The authors have been working on the book, aimed at unravelling the mysteries surrounding the 1984 murder of Rob Green’s elderly aunt Hilda Murrell for the last decade. The book lays out their investigations which have exposed possible state murder and the involvement of Britain’s security services, the Thatcher government, the nuclear power industry, Falklands War and the eventual murder conviction of the unlikeliest suspect. Consequently, Robert Green and Kate Dewes have been under surveillance for years. Their telephones have been tapped and their house bugged and entered on several occasions. Their car was tampered with and, on a visit to the UK, they were threatened.
Interestingly, the NZ SIS was quite supportive. SIS Director Warren Tucker visited them twice to assure them his intelligence operation was not involved and was clearly annoyed that MI5 had not told him they were working on his ‘patch’. As he said: “You wouldn’t know we had been there. These guys wanted you to know.”
The book is likely to be a major embarrassment to politicians, security services, police and the justice system in the UK, so Green and Dewes were anxious to ensure that publication could not be stopped, as has been the case with other books involving the British security services.
Hence the decision to publish in New Zealand and the high level of security.”We hadn’t met until early in 2010,” remembers Ian Grant, “but we knew of one another through our mutual friendships with Sonja Davies. Also, one or two other people suggested they talk to us.”
Fraser Books fitted the bill in a number of ways. As a two-person operation security was not an issue. “I know from working for and with large publishers that any book project is discussed at meetings of the editorial, marketing and accounting people and there is much to-ing and fro-ing before a publishing decision is made. We simply said: ‘That sounds really interesting – and important’.”
Nevertheless, it took the Grants some time to get used to contacting the authors by sending mail to other Christchurch addresses and arranging phone calls to be made from other people’s homes. Meetings in Christchurch and Masterton, where the Grants are based, were always held in noisy cafes, with cellphones left in respective cars. The book’s formatting was done in the design department of a Masterton printing company the Grants have a long and close association with. Printing was done through the night by trusted staff and the binding, in Lower Hutt, was done by the bindery’s owner, the Grants helping and supervising.
The release of the book was carefully planned. Early copies of the book were sent to key media contacts, politicians and others in the UK where there was immediate interest from the Sunday Times and BBC TV – coinciding with first news of the book in New Zealand in a Christchurch Press review article on Saturday 8 October, a TVOne news item that night and a four page article headed ‘Spooky Business’ in the Listener on sale this week. Radio interviews and other press articles will follow.
A Thorn in Their Side is Robert Green’s extraordinary pursuit of the truth about how and why his aunt Hilda Murrell, a noted English rose grower, met a violent and bizarre death. In 1984, at the age of 78, Hilda Murrell was found brutally murdered in the Shropshire countryside. She had just gained approval to testify on the unsolved problems of radioactive waste at the first British planning inquiry into a new nuclear power plant. The police theory that a lone, panicking burglar robbed and abducted Hilda in her own car for petty cash erupted into a sensational political conspiracy involving PM Margaret Thatcher’s plans for British nuclear energy and the controversial sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano in the 1982 Falklands War. The West Mercia Police, accused of initial negligence, a bungled investigation and ignoring key evidence, took until 2005 to secure the conviction of Andrew George as Hilda’s unlikely murderer – in 1984 he was a 16-year-old truant from a local foster home who could not drive.
The case has spawned numerous books, plays and TV programmes as it became one of the most baffling British murders of the 20th century.
Now Robert Green exposes the implausibility of the police theory; how key witnesses were leant on to change statements, and information suggesting political motives was dismissed. He has also uncovered explosive new evidence that George should have been acquitted.
As the current British government presses to replace nuclear power plants and weapons, despite the nuclear catastrophe in Japan, this deeply disturbing saga about a distinguished British woman and law-abiding patriot is powerfully topical.
Robert Green served for 20 years in the Royal Navy from 1962-822. As a Fleet Air Arm observer/bomardier-navigator, he flew in Buccaneer nuclear strike aircraft and anti-submarine helicopters. Commander Green’s final appointment was as Staff Officer (Intelligence) to the Commander-in-Chief Fleet. He took voluntary redundancy in 1981 and was released after the 1982 Falklands War. The 1984 murder of his aunt Hilda Murrell led him to examine and then challenge the hazards of nuclear electricity generation – and nuclear weapons. He is now co-director, with his wife Dr Kate Dewes ONZM, of the Disarmament & Security Centre in New Zealand. His previous book, Security Without Nuclear Deterrence, was published in 2010.
A Thorn in Their Side: The Hilda Murrell Murder – Robert Green
Paperback 240mm x 160mm
Four colour cover
Three, 4-page photo sections
Publisher: Rata Books, PO Box 8390, Riccarton, Christchurch 8440, New Zealand
Distributor: Nationwide Book Distributors, P O Box 65, Oxford, North Canterbury, New Zealand