A former superintendent at Mount Vernon Cemetery in Edinburgh has admitted conning people out of thousands of pounds by selling them burial plots, which either did not exist or which already contained remains.
William Henderson (46) of Braids Way, Bonnyrigg, pled guilty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday (August 31) to obtaining £14,720 by fraud between September 1, 2006, and July 1, 2015. The indictment named 13 victims of the fraud, with amounts ranging from £6500 to £20.
The private cemetery has been owned by the Catholic Church since 1895 and administered by the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who called in the police in 2015 to carry out an investigation.
Fiscal Depute, Aidan Higgins, told Sheriff Donald Corke that Henderson had been employed as a grave digger and then became the Superintendent, the position previously held by his father. Mr Higgins said records were held at the cemetery and at the Administration Office of the Diocese. Henderson, in his role as Superintendent, was in regular contact with bereaved family members and members of the public in possession of burial deeds.
In 2014, concern had been expressed about some anomalies in the cemetery’s records, but nothing was done at that time said Mr Higgins. The Vice-Chancellor of the Diocese had asked Henderson to investigate, but: “he didn’t realise he was asking him to investigate himself”. In 2015, the Vice-Chancellor was contacted by a member of the public who was concerned about plots being sold and cash demanded. The Police were called in.
Sheriff Corke then heard of Henderson’s frauds. The first concerned a plot being sold for £900. The plot was on common ground for paupers’ graves and not available for sale. It had been used to bury a stillborn child. The record had been altered using Tipex to remove the burial of the child.
Another plot was sold, which should not have been used, because there was an underground stream. In one case, £6500 was paid to Henderson for eight plots, but they were already owned by other people. A woman paid £950 for a plot, but she contacted the Vice-Chancellor when she became suspicious of the transaction.
A man, who had a legitimate plot, asked Henderson if he could have an alternative one. Henderson said he had an alternative and received the genuine Deeds and £20 for Administrative Fees.
A woman, whose daughter was terminally ill, paid £2000 to have two plots side by side, so they could be together when she died. A cash payment of £1100 was made for two back-to-back plots, but when the Deeds were stolen during a house-breaking, and replacement deeds were asked for, it showed that the sale had never been registered.
Other cases involved plots being sold which did not exist, plots which could not be sold to the public being sold and, in one case, a woman being told that £800 in cash had to be paid that day. Paying it and giving Henderson £50: “by way of gratitude” said the Fiscal.
Finally, when a man went to Henderson looking for a plot for his mother, he was told by Henderson that: “officially there were no plots available, but that he personally owned a plot which he could sell because he was going through a divorce and needed money”. The sum of £850 was handed over. It turned out the plot was real, but it was owned by a family who bought it in 1988.
Mr Higgins told Sheriff Corke that the Church had repaid all the money to the victims. Henderson, he said, had admitted in December 2016 that he was fully responsible. This, said the Fiscal, avoided a trial and further stress for those involved in the matter.
Defence solicitor, Murray Robertson, said Henderson had handed over £14,720 to the court so that the Church would not be in loss.
Sheriff Corke deferred sentence for background reports, telling Henderson that it was a very serious matter and custody was the most likely outcome, but he granted him bail in the meantime.