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Collection GB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
Level Fonds
Ref No MS 3217
Title Aberdeen Coffins trial papers
Date 1944
Extent 1 file: 0.05 linear metres
Administrative History James Dewar was manager of Aberdeen Crematorium, Town Councillor, Justice of the Peace and magistrate. He was also a high-ranking officer in the Fire Service. Alick George Forbes was an undertaker in Woodside, Aberdeen, thirty-four years old, and official undertaker to the crematorium at Kaimhill. Dewar arranged for bodies to be removed from coffins before cremation, and passed the used coffins on to Forbes for re-use, saving the lids partly for firewood. The unsuitability of some of the coffins was noticed by a mortuary attendant at the Royal Infirmary, and he marked some of the coffins to see if they would return with other corpses in them. They did, and he further observed that these coffins only appeared when the corpse within was destined for the crematorium. He mentioned this to the police, which started the investigation. A prime defence in the case later was that it appeared that in Scots law one cannot steal from the dead, but Dewar was charged with theft of 1,044 coffin lids and two coffins, and found guilty by the High Court in Edinburgh. He was sentenced to three years penal servitude. Forbes was charged with reset (receiving stolen goods knowing them to have been stolen) and found guilty. Both the accused appealed but the verdicts were upheld. A local doctor was also reprimanded for countersigning cremation certificates without examining the bodies to which they referred. The used coffins and lids were brought into the court as evidence for the trial, causing some problems which clerks had to overcome with perfumed sprays: the judge was seen to have a bottle of smelling salts by him.
Source The papers were purchased by the library in 1986.
Description Typescript account by John Westland, with some ink corrections and additions, of background, investigation and trial of Dewar and Forbes for the misappropriation and re-use of used coffins at Aberdeen Crematorium, intended as draft for book, 1958; Transcript of proceedings against James Dewar and Alick George Forbes, 1944; Ten police photographs of related evidence, signed by police officers, 1944.
Access Status Open
Language English

Names associated with this record:


University of Aberdeen Library; 1510-


Westland; John Gordon; Detective Superintendent

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