Trial of teenagers accused of violating a grave

TWO teenagers are to become the first people in more than 100 years to go on trial accused of breaking an ancient "grave-robbing" law.

The two young men, aged 17 and 15, are set to stand trial this week at the High Court in Edinburgh accused of "violation of sepulchre".

The law, which was often used when grave-robbing was at its height in the 18th and 19th centuries, is related to being disrespectful to the remains of the dead and the feelings of their relatives.

The pair are accused of violating the tomb of one of Scotland’s most brutal historical figures, Sir George ‘Bloody’ Mackenzie, a former Lord Advocate during the reign of King Charles II.

Mackenzie earned the nickname for his prosecution of the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters, which lasted between 1684 and 1688 and saw many sent to their deaths. He also founded the National Library of Advocates in 1687.

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

Much superstition has surrounded the 20ft tall tomb and it has been investigated by researchers into the paranormal on several occasions.

Christopher Gane, professor in Scots law at Aberdeen University, said: "It is fascinating that this charge has been indicted in the High Court.

"The last case recorded in our law reports was in 1899 when a gentleman called William Coutts had six charges of violation of sepulchre laid against him.

"He was the superintendent of Nellfield Cemetery, a private graveyard on the Great Western Road in Aberdeen, and the background to the case was that he was accused of digging up coffins and reselling the lairs for other burials.

"He confessed to two of the six charges, admitting that he placed the remains of the bodies he had dug up in other graves, and he was jailed for six months."

Prof Gane added: "The law of theft does not apply to a human body that has been interred, as in the eyes of the law a body that has been buried for some time does not count as ‘property’ for the purpose of stealing."

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Crown Office said they could recall no case in recent memory where a person had been indicted to appear at the High Court charged with the crime of violation of sepulchre.

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