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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 March 2008, 11:11 GMT
Witchcraft pardon plea rejected
Helen Duncan
Helen Duncan spent nine months in prison
MSPs have rejected calls for the last woman to be convicted under witchcraft legislation to be pardoned.

Helen Duncan, from Callander, served nine months in Holloway prison in 1944 after telling a seance a warship had sunk, before the news was made public.

She was convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1735 for pretending to exercise or use any kind of "witchcraft" or "sorcery" to tell fortunes.

The call to pardon Mrs Duncan was put before Holyrood's petitions committee.

The petition was rejected unanimously by the committee and follows the same decision by the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who refused a similar request last year.

Committee member Nigel Don of the SNP said: "I feel we've got better things to talk about.

Some of the organisations involved in the persecution of women were some of the religious faiths that were around
John Wilson

"It's an interesting lesson in history but it has no purpose whatsoever and I would like to close it now."

Despite the ruling, MSPs said religious leaders in Scotland should be questioned about the burning of women as witches.

Members are also considering calls for all people convicted under witchcraft legislation to be posthumously pardoned.

They will now seek the views of the government and the academic community on the issue.

The SNPs John Wilson, who called for the views of the Inter-Faith Council to be sought, was also backed by members.

Witch hunting

Mr Wilson said: "Some of the organisations involved in the persecution of women were some of the religious faiths that were around.

"Women were being persecuted in Scottish society - this is nothing to do with English legislation or British legislation.

"If you walk round some of the historic streets of St Andrews, you can see what happened to women in the streets.

"There are markers where women accused of witchcraft were burned in the streets, which didn't need to be verified."

Green MSP Robin Harper backed calls to look into the issue.

"This is about the treatment of women in Scotland in previous centuries," he said.

"There's debate here."

The petitioners, Full Moon Investigations, claimed about 4,000 people were convicted, 85% of them women.

Plea for 'witches' to be pardoned
28 Feb 08 |  Tayside and Central
Petition to pardon last 'witch'
10 Jan 08 |  Tayside and Central
Calls to pardon 'UK's last witch'
06 Dec 06 |  Tayside and Central
Town pardons executed 'witches'
29 Oct 04 |  Scotland
Bewitching time for pagans
18 Jun 01 |  UK News


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