Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Public opinion wanted over skull

Mary Ann Higgins' skull
Mary Ann Higgins was executed on Whitley Common

A newly-refurbished art gallery and museum is asking the public what it should do with one of its oldest artefacts - a skull.

The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum has had the skull of Mary Ann Higgins, the last person to be hanged in public in Coventry, in storage since 1972.

But its reopening, due to take place later, has prompted the museum to ask the public what should be done with it.

Spokesman Chris Kirby said it could be displayed or perhaps be buried.

Hanged for murder

Mr Kirby, the museum's head of collections and programmes, said it was not fully known how the skull came to be in the museum's collection.

Mary Ann Higgins was 19 when she was hanged on 11 August 1831 for the murder of her uncle who lived in Spon Street, Coventry.

Mr Kirby said her story seemed to be a sad tale, as she was possibly influenced by her fiance Edward Clarke, who was found not guilty of the murder.

After the public execution her body was taken away to be dissected by the police surgeon, which was the practice at the time.

Sensitivity issues

Some of her body parts would then possibly have been put on display as a warning to others, he said.

What happened to her body parts is unknown, but one theory is her skull was eventually passed to an art school and then onto a woman who gave it to the gallery in 1972.

"We have to think about any sensitivity issues over displaying the skull," Mr Kirby said.

"We have not had it on display.

"We need to look at options which will we do through a public consultation.

"People may want her to be buried."

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