Bones of Scot set for reburial after grave robbery

THE 200-year-old bones of a Scots magistrate, partially dug up by grave robbers and scattered around a churchyard, are to be re-interred tomorrow.

Kilrenny Church near Anstruther, Fife. Picture: Wikimedia/CC

A special casket has been made for the remains to be placed in.

The “shocking and macabre” incident, at the 15th century Kilrenny Church, near Ansthruther, Fife, earlier this month was described as being like a modern-day act of Burke and Hare.

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A spade was used to dig down five feet, where Stephen Williamson’s skeletal remains were then cut through and fragments of bone dumped in soil on the surface.

His skull could not be found, and may have been stolen.

Mr Williamsons’ descendants from around the world were shocked to learn of the desecration, and seven family members are expected to attend the re-burial, representing the wider family.

Anita de Lotbiniere, a great-great-granddaughter of Mr Williamson, said she would be travelling from London for the ceremony along with members of the two generations below her, including one family member who will have come from Australia.

Mrs de Lotbiniere said: “We understand that the whole community has been very distressed and shocked by this act of sacrilege in a Christian burial ground.

“We all hope that the prompt action to preserve the relics in the church prior to their being buried again and the fact that everyone is taking it so seriously will provide some satisfaction and closure for everyone.”

The gruesome excavation, during which Mr Williamson’s headstone was knocked over, took place some time between March 1 and March 8th at the quiet cemetery and was discovered by a member of the congregation.

Mr Williamson, who was a local shipowner and farmer, as well as a magistrate in the East Neuk of Fife, died in 1816. His wife Mary, who died in 1828, is also buried in the plot.

The couple’s grandson, also called Stephen Williamson, became a Liberal MP in the region in the 1880s, and gifted Cellardyke Town Hall and the Waid Tower to the community.

The Reverend Arthur Christie, minister for Anstruther, Cellardyke and Kilrenny, said that his understanding was that there was nothing of value in the grave, and he was that he was at a loss as to why anyone would have committed the grave robbery.

Mr Christie said: “It’s shocking, it is macabre, and it’s just all been guesswork for me and the police. We’ve all seen vandalism of some description over the years but we’ve never experienced desecration of a grave.

“This is Burke and Hare stuff of the 21st century.

“Those remains have remained undisturbed for 200 years. It’s very important that they are laid to rest as soon as is possible. I feel very strongly about that.”

Mrs de Lotbiniere said the family were very grateful to Mr Christie, and the undertaker, Peter Murray, who they said had been very supportive and helpful in making the arrangements.

At the time of the incident, police appealed for information.

St Andrews-based Police Scotland Inspector Joanne McEwan said: “This has been a grossly disrespectful act of destruction to an ancient grave, which has caused great distress to the local parishioners.

“We are keen to hear from anyone who remembers seeing any suspicious activity around the cemetery.”