BY Amanda Connelly | September 1 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Catholic graveyard manager pleads guilty to defrauding bereaved families

The former superintendent of Edinburgh’s only Catholic graveyard has confessed to stealing thousands of pounds by illegally selling burial plots to grieving families.

45-year-old William Henderson appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday, where he pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud while working at Mount Vernon Cemetery from 2006-2015, with his criminal activities involving 13 individual instances of fraud.

St Andrews & Edinburgh Archdiocese, which runs the cemetery, has apologised to the families of those affected.

“There are two victims of Willie Henderson’s criminal behaviour: the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh which has been defrauded thousands of pounds but, much more significantly and disturbingly, is the impact on those families who were exploited by him at a time when they were grieving and vulnerable,” Dr Elspeth Atkinson, chief operating officer of the archdiocese, said. “That’s why his crimes are so shocking.

“The archdiocese deeply regrets the criminal activities of Willie Henderson and has been working hard over the past months to offer both pastoral and practical support to those families affected by his actions and we will, of course, continue to do so in the months to come.”

Mr Henderson worked at Mount Vernon Cemetery from 1997 until 2015.

He became acting superintendent in October 2012 and was confirmed in the post in March 2014.

His fraudulent scheme saw him sell forged burial deeds to individuals for cash-in-hand, with prices for each deed varying from £400 to £6500.

These were undeclared to his employers, St Andrews & Edinburgh Archdiocese, and usually involved him identifying and selling unused, spare areas of land in the graveyard such as access paths.

Two instances however involved ‘over-burials,’ where families were sold plots they believed to be new lairs but which were in fact unmarked graves with deceased persons buried in them.

Archbishop Leo Cushley took over as archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh in September 2013.

This saw a review and revamp of the internal running of the archdiocese, which raised concerns over the on-site management of the cemetery in late 2014.

The archdiocese received a complaint from an undertaker on January 22, 2015 about a possible fraudulent burial deed.

Mr Henderson agreed to go on leave the following day while it was investigated, before the archdiocese contacted the police.

Mr Henderson was suspended by the archdiocese on April 17, 2015 and he resigned on May 1, 2015.

He was arrested by Police Scotland in November 2016 and charged with fraud.

“It was a very complex inquiry and as we investigated further we uncovered widespread criminality and malpractice at the cemetery,” Detective Chief Inspector Paul Granger said.

In anticipation of his arrest, the archdiocese set up a telephone hotline Mr Henderson’s victims.

Archbishop Cushley sent a personal letter to all those affected by the crimes and offer practical and pastoral support.

“It was the overhaul of the internal governance of the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh, overseen by Archbishop Leo Cushley, which led to the detection of criminal activities at Mount Vernon, Willie Henderson’s departure from the organisation, Police Scotland being called in and, crucially, the implementation of new internal systems, now in place, which ensure that something like this can never happen again,” Dr Atkinson said.

Mr Henderson has been bailed until his sentencing on September 29.

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