Bizarre 'curse' crematorium protest

POLICE are investigating a protest against a controversial crematorium, in which an effigy of First Minister Alex Salmond was found hanging from a tree next to a cemetery.

• Protest: A cloaked skeleton, a horse's skull on a pole and three dolls in a makeshift grave

A shocked pensioner visiting a grave believed the hanging body to be genuine and called the police.

The macabre protest took place at Wairds Cemetery in Melrose, where the first crematorium in the Borders has been given the green light by the Scottish Government and the local council.

The objects included a horse's skull mounted on a wooden cross, three dressed dolls in a makeshift grave and what appeared to be the cloaked figure of a human skeleton.

An animal skin tied to a pole contained a pentangle symbol and the names of the major players involved in giving the crematorium the green light.

They included Mr Salmond, members and officials of Scottish Borders Council and the commercial director of the group that is building the crematorium.

The bizarre display was discovered at the beauty spot in the shadow of the Eildon Hills on Sunday morning.

A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said the elderly man who made the emergency call thought the effigy had been a real person.

He said: "We treated this as a grade-one call and officers were there within minutes.

"The man was badly shaken, but officers quickly established that the body was, in fact, a mannequin. Officers initially thought it was a prank, but investigations showed it was more serious.

"From one item found at the scene, we are now following a positive line of inquiry."

The police spokesman added that the area had been sealed off as a crime scene and the CID called in.

Photographs were taken of the displays – thought to be a reference to the tenth-century Icelandic anti-hero Egill Skallagrimsson, who used a horse's skull on a pole to curse his enemies – before they were dismantled and taken away as evidence.

The stunt was criticised by Robert Mathison, Scottish Borders Council's burials officer.

He said: "This was desecration, pure and simple, especially on a Sunday, which is the most popular day for people to pay respects to their departed loved ones.

"To choose such a place for this kind of protest is utterly disgraceful, as well as futile, especially as the democratic process has been fully followed and the crematorium decision has been made."

Council leader David Parker said: "What was done at the cemetery was elaborate and must have taken time.

"It is certainly a bizarre way of explaining dissatisfaction at the planning process.

"I personally didn't find it scary, but some of our staff did and some of them have been upset and disturbed," he added.

"The body hanging from the tree is particularly upsetting."

Councillor Nicholas Watson, of the Borders Party, one of only two members of the planning committee to object to the crematorium, distanced himself from the protest.

He said: "I strongly believe Wairds is the wrong site for the crematorium, but this sort of stuff is counter-productive.

"It will upset some and antagonise others, and the final planning decision has been taken anyway."

Borders councillors decided by eight votes to two in November that a field next to Wairds Cemetery in Melrose should be the site of the area's first crematorium, despite a petition of opposition containing 1,350 signatures.

The decision was later ratified by the Scottish Government.

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