THE remains of the last man to be hanged for murder in Scotland may have to be exhumed from his unmarked grave when a prison closes its doors for the last time later this year.
Henry John Burnett was 21 when he was executed at Aberdeen’s Craiginches at 8am on 15 August, 1963, after being convicted of the murder of his lover’s sailor husband, Thomas Guyan.
Burnett murdered the merchant seaman by blasting him in the face with a shotgun. He was the only inmate of the Victorian prison to die on the gallows inside it and the last man to be executed in Scotland before Westminster abolished the death penalty.
Both Craiginches and Peter-head prisons are due to be replaced by a £140 million “super jail” HMP Grampian, which is being built at the site of Peterhead Prison. It will house 500 male and female prisoners, as well as young offenders.
Burnett’s body is set to be reburied at another site once the redevelopment of the Craiginches site has been decided.
A Scottish Prison Service (SPS) spokesman said: “Aberdeen Prison will have to close over the winter at some point and, beyond that, the Scottish Prison Service will have to look at the plans for the future of the site.
“We are aware there is a grave within the grounds of the prison, and we will ensure the appropriate consideration is given to the removal of the remains as part of the decommissioning of the site.”
It is understood the SPS will have to seek the approval of the sheriff court to exhume the body.
The spokesman added: “As far as we are aware, the grave of Henry John Burnett is the only grave inside Craiginches. There was only one execution at Craiginches, and at that time the practice was that they [executed prisoners] were simply buried in unmarked graves within the grounds of the prison. There is an awareness of where it is.”
Burnett met Mr Guyan’s wife, Margaret, when they were working as filleters at John R Stephen Fish Curers in Aberdeen. She later went to live with him at his home in Skene Terrace.
Burnett kept Mrs Guyan locked in the house they shared and on one of the rare occasions she was allowed out alone she met her estranged husband and agreed to go back to him.
When she refused to return to him, Burnett stole a shotgun from his brother’s house and killed Mr Guyan, on 31 May, 1963.
In his address to the jury, the solicitor-general spoke of the “sordid background of a sailor’s wife being unfaithful to her husband when he was at sea”.
Six days before his execution, Burnett wrote: “Well, my darling, you will be wondering why I did not kill you up in Skene Terrace. Well, it was because I loved you. I could easily have done it if I had wanted to, but what they were saying in court was a heap of rubbish about me being insane even at the time. I knew exactly what I was doing.”