Graverobbers steal skull in tomb attack

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THE tomb of one of Edinburgh’s most notorious historical figures has been raided.

The mausoleum containing the remains of Sir George "Bloody" MacKenzie at Greyfriars Kirkyard was broken open and his skull was removed.

The attack on the former Lord Advocate’s mausoleum, described as the finest tomb in the cemetery, was only stopped when a group of people on a ghost walk passed through the churchyard near Candlemaker Row.

Bloody MacKenzie, who died in 1691 and is said to haunt the churchyard, was given his nickname for his activities against the Presbyterian Covenanters, including torture and witch-hunting. He was notorious for sending hundreds of Covenanters to their deaths in the 17th century during his reign of terror as Lord Advocate.

Tour guide Jan Henderson, who runs City of the Dead Tours, said the Monday night attack would enrage the spirit of Bloody MacKenzie.

He said: "No doubt the ghost will be angry. The legend of the poltergeist is that it appeared three years ago when there was some damage to the graveyard and someone broke into his tomb.

"God knows what will happen now."

Vandalism of graveyards, particularly at Greyfriars, is a growing problem and just last week, several gravestones in the churchyard were badly damaged.

Mr Henderson, who has written a book about Bloody MacKenzie, added: "It is terrible that this has happened, but it is not the first time. In the last month there have been about 12 headstones broken and smashed.

"I think one of the reasons is because the church is having building work, and in order to do the building work the council had to take the gates off. Before that, no-one could get into the churchyard at night."

The attack happened at around 8.30pm on Monday, when the mausoleum was smashed open and remains removed from the coffin beneath.

The 20-ft tall tomb has now been boarded up after its imposing double doors carved out of stone were destroyed. A nearby resident, who declined to be named, said: "I live in the graveyard area and there is always vandalism, but no-one seems to do anything about it. This might help get some security in the place."

Bloody MacKenzie was a renowned politician and statesman and a published novelist. He became an MP in 1669 and was appointed Lord Advocate in 1677, before his death in 1691.

He founded the National Library of Advocates in 1687, which went on to become the National Library of Scotland.

A spokesman for the National Library of Scotland said: "Sir George MacKenzie is widely regarded as the founder of the National Library of Scotland since in 1681 he inaugurated the Advocates’ Library, out of which we grew. It is sad that the grave of a man who gave Scotland such a legacy should be desecrated."

The skull was recovered at 6am yesterday and is being retained by police. It will be returned to the grave once suitable arrangements have been made, a police spokeswoman said.

Two boys, one aged 15, the other 17, have since been charged with offences relating to violating graves and are due to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today.

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh City Council, which is responsible for the upkeep of graveyards, said the grave had been made secure but declined to comment further.

"I can confirm that there has been damage to the grave," she said. "We do not want to make any further statement because it is a police matter."