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Last Updated: Friday, 26 March, 2004, 17:16 GMT
Youths guilty of tomb violation
Sonny Devlin
Devlin was convicted of cutting the head off the remains
Two teenagers have been found guilty of the ancient crime of violating a sepulchre.

Sonny Devlin, 17, and a 15-year-old who cannot be identified for legal reasons, had denied breaking into a tomb in Edinburgh's Greyfriars Kirkyard.

The pair were also found guilty of taking the remains of a body from its coffin, cutting off its head and playing with it.

Sentence has been deferred until next month pending background reports.

The pair had forced open the Mackenzie Mausoleum, where Sir George Mackenzie, a former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, was laid to rest after his death in 1691, on 30 June 2003.

Mackenzie was a prosecutor for Charles the Second and earned the nickname "Bluidy Mackenzie" for vigorously pursuing Covenanters whom he had tortured to gain confessions.

What lies behind this offence, and always has done is, the notion that in any civilised society there should be respect for the dead
Lord Wheatley
Trial judge
At the High Court in Edinburgh, the judge, Lord Wheatley, told the jury that they had heard a unique case, the like of which had not been heard in the court in 100 years.

Unemployed Devlin, of East Claremont Street, Edinburgh, and the co-accused had denied violating the sepulchre but that was rejected by the jury.

However, they were acquitted of allegations that they forced open the coffin and simulated oral sex with the severed head.

Sentence was deferred until 20 April and they were granted bail.

Lord Wheatley told the jury: "What lies behind this offence, and always has done is, the notion that in any civilised society there should be respect for the dead.

"The essence is the dead should be treated with a proper degree of reverence.

Mausoleum grate
The pair broke into the mausoleum
"This is a charge used over the centuries to cover a variety of situations such as robbing graves to get bodies for medical research or emptying graves so they could be resold for burials."

The teenagers broke into the Mackenzie Mausoleum and cut the head off a male corpse with a pen knife.

The court heard that they played with the head like it was a "trophy".

Devlin put his fist in the neck of the head and used it "like a puppet" and talked to it.

He was later caught by police after returning to the kirkyard to show off in front of a girl who did not believe his claims about the tomb incident.

The teenagers had been seen running from the tomb - which was also known as the Black Mausoleum.

A detective who photographed the crime scene crawled into the burial vault and found four coffins and other human remains.

Detective Constable Graeme Bowie, 43, said one of the coffins had its lid broken off, exposing a body.

He said: "There was no head on the body. The head was missing."

Thanking the jurors, Lord Wheatley said: "You can get any kind of case thrown at you - a murder case, a drugs one. You got one not heard in these courts for over a hundred years."

BBC Scotland's Reevel Alderson
"The nature of this offence has shocked the church community"

Teenager 'cut head off corpse'
25 Mar 04  |  Scotland
Teenagers deny violating corpse
24 Mar 04  |  Scotland

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