Category Archives: Historical Cases

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 22 August 13 1963

Henry John Burnett’s last letter to Margaret Guyan

 

Commentary.          It isn’t clear whether Henry John Burnett was aware that the prison officers who were with him every minute since his conviction were make entries in the ‘Special Watch Occurance Book’ at the end of each shift, recording the conversations they had with him and summarising his conversations with visitors.

In addition, copies were made of the letters Burnett sent to Margaret Guyan even though he instructed her to destroy them.

 

12 August 1963

My Darling Meg,

 

Just a few lines to let you know I was very glad to see you today. Well, My Darling, by the time this letter reaches you it will all be over with one way or the other.

I don’t know which yet but I soon will. If I don’t get a reprieve I will see you get a letter that will answer the questions you asked about this morning about why I attacked you that day. I think you will understand when you hear it. But until I am sure I can’t say anything as it might go down bad. But I will say this darling I would never have killed you any more than I would harm Keith and you know I would never do that.

 

Well My Darling, I don’t know how things will work out but it won’t make any difference to me as I will never stop loving you as long as I live.

 

I have put in a request for to get a visit from you on Wednesday morning but we will have to wait and see how things work out. But I think I stand a good chance of a reprieve.

 

I will close now Darling, hoping to hear or see you soon. My love for always.

 

Harry

 

xxxxx

xxxxx

xxxxx for Keith you and Charles.

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 14 August 5 1963

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

5.8.1963 Visit from mother and Sister in Law.  Conversation mostly of trying to get him to appeal, still refused, said he would think it over.  Also talked of family and petition.

5.8.1963 Prisoner  very cheerful indeed.  During the course of the evening he said that none of the officers that were with him on the watch would go with him to the gallows.  If they did they would have a riot on their hands.  He said he wouldn’t like his friends going with him.

A. McGillivray Officer

A. Pirie Officer

5.8.1963 Prisoner spoke of visit from mother, annoyed at her being kept waiting while he was interviewed by Doctors. “If he knew who they were he would have refused to see them.”  Also spoke about his Appeal period being up tomorrow Tuesday.  He read a while and played dominoes.  He was still cheerful but did not talk much while playing

E Bissett Officer

A Duncan Officer

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 13 August 4 1963

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

4.8.1963 Visit from two sisters, Mrs M Smith and Miss Sheena Burnett.  Sister Mary asked him to appeal for his mother’s sake, replied he wouldn’t, she asked again who cleaned the fingerprints off the gun, he said he didn’t know. Conversation went on to family and how they were all bearing up. Sister Mary again asked him to Appeal, he still refused, and said there would be no more visits after Sunday (next).

4.8.1963 Prisoner very depressed.  Played cards and listened to Radio. He appeared to cheer up as time went on.  It appears that his reason for not appealing is that, it would be 14 days longer to wait for the sentence to be carried out.

A. McGillivray Officer

A. Pirie Officer

4.8.1963 Prisoner spoke about his sister wishing him to Appeal.  Also Sister in Law, getting a visit from her next Sunday.  He said (he wondered if he would crack up on the last day).  The he changed the subject and spoke of the money and good times he had had at sea on Drifters.  Also spoke about being up on the Faroes in them.  He seemed to be cheerful in recalling these times.

E Bissett Officer

A Duncan Officer

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 10 August1 1963

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

1.8.1963 Visit from Father and Sister, talked about Margaret (Mrs Guyan). It appears she had wrote a letter to his mother saying that she had no heart called his sisters whores.  Had an argument with his sister, he broke down, went upstairs and had a good cry.  After a considerable amount of reasoning with him he came back to visit.  I allowed him to smoke, it settled him a good bit.  Visit carried on quite normal and conversation changed to his appeal and the petition, seems to think he has more chance with the petition if he does not appeal.  Remarked that if he got a reprieve he would do his time the correct way and authorities would never know he was in jail.

A. McGillivary Officer

A. Pirie Officer

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 9 July 31 1963

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

31.7.1963 During the course of the afternoon the prisoner said, there were two doors on the oak panel wall that led straight into the hanging cell.  As this was acute observation on the part of the prisoner and I had not noticed any door or anything wrong with the oak panel wall, I privately checked with P.O. Fraser and found this true.  I was surprised at the prisoner’s powers of observation and alertness.

F S Parker Officer

C Riddoch Officer

Please note that precautions have been taken to prevent any breakthrough in execution cell by Burnett.

Joseph Maison C.O. i/c

[A handwritten note is inserted in the margin beside his typewritten comment by Jospeph Maison:

In the event this concealed door will not be used.”]

31/7/1963 Prisoner seemed quite normal and cheerful, remarked about the concealed door, said he would take a mad turn one of these days and see what was behind it. He also remarked about killing Guyan, said he felt just the same as if he had shot a bird.  We then went on to talk about his visit tomorrow from his sister, he asked if I knew her. Told him I didn’t.

Played cards and talked of his work previous to being charged and where he met Mrs Guyan and of a party held at her house.

A. McGillivary Officer

A. Pirie Officer

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 8 July 30 1963

Report of trial judge to Secretary of State for Scotland.

 Commentary:

 For more than a century it had been established that the exercise of the Royal Prerogative to reprieve someone sentenced to death was effectively a political decision to be taken by the Home Secretary in England and Wales and by the Secretary of State for Scotland north of the border.

 While the political decision maker was likely to receive many unsolicited pleas and petitions the trial judge was required to submit a report on the trial itself along with any additional observations.

 It is fair to say that some of Lord Wheatley’s contemporaries were mildly surprised to discover from his autobiography that he was by inclination an abolitionist.

 In his three page report to Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Noble, Lord Wheatley rehearses the issues that had to be addressed during the trial, including consideration of the special defences.

 “The defence did not contest the evidence adduced by the Crown to prove that the murder was committed by Burnett, and the Crown’s case was proved abundantly. The only issue was the state of Burnett’s mind at the time.”

 Lord Wheatley supports the verdict of the jury “which, in my opinion, they were perfectly entitled to reach on the evidence.”

 The greater interest lies in the third and final page of his report. If Lord Wheatley is not throwing the door to reprieve wide open, especially in his concluding paragraph he appears to opening it an inch. It would be for others to push hard.

TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR SCOTLAND

REPORT

By

The Right Honourable LORD WHEATLEY

regarding the case of

HENRY JOHN BURNETT, who was convicted of Capital

Murder and sentenced to Death in the High Court

of Justiciary at Aberdeen on 25th July, 1963.

… “I might add only this. If the jury had sustained the plea of diminished responsibility, thereby reducing the offence from capital murder to culpable homicide, I would have sentenced Burnett to imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life.

My reason for doing so would have been this. Without knowing the workings of the jury’s mind I would have assumed that they had accepted, at least in part, the evidence of the doctors. If that evidence is well founded Burnett is likely to suffer from paroxysmal outburst in the course of which he may indulge in violence,  thereby constituting a danger both to society and himself.

A determinate sentence of imprisonment would have meant his release from prison irrespective of his then mental condition. Imprisonment for life would have enabled the authorities to keep his case under review, and the decision to release him could be made in the light of his current mental condition and the consideration of the safety of his lieges.

I would only add this in conclusion that as Burnett did not give evidence, I was not able to form any definite impression of him. He had one or two outbursts in Court while his mother was giving evidence, but whether this was due to some mental defect or just a natural upset at his mother’s distress in the witness-box I would not be prepared to say. Burnett’s family background is not a happy one. It is doubtful whether all the facts were before the Court, and if this is regarded as an important element in the considerations which have to be taken into account, further enquiries might be made.”

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 7 July 29 1963

Henry Burnett was obviously aware that from the moment he arrived at the ‘Execution Block’ of Craiginches prison after sentencing he was never left alone. On a 24 hour rota he was accompanied by two prison officers at all times.

It is less clear whether he was aware that at the end of each shift the officers were required to note down in the ‘Special Watch Occurance Book’ a log of everything he had said to them or to any of his visitors.

Anything of note that might have significance in the decision of the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Noble, whether to allow the sentence to proceed or to commute it, would be passed up the line.

Entries include:

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch occurance Book.

29/7/63   Prisoner was quite cheerful but not looking forward to visit from mother. Worried in case she became ill. He played various games and talked mostly about his mother. Prisoner mentioned when he assaulted Margaret, he thought she was dead.

E. Bissett, Officer

J Duncan, Officer

29/7/63 Visit from mother and sister, talked about visits for the rest of the week. Advice from his mother to behave himself. Assurance from prisoner he would be reprieved. General family topic.

Mother asked prisoner who wiped fingerprints from gun. He said he did not.

Mother asked why he done it, prisoner said, if Guyan had not made first move, he would not have killed him. He was told that Robert and John Guyan and some one else were after him. That is why he went to the house. Mrs Guyan shouted as he entered the house, “That’s him, Tom”. Guyan dived at him as he fired.

JS Parker, Officer

G Riddoch, Officer

29/7/63 Prisoner did not seem so cheerful as on previous nights. Talked of his visit with his mother. Remarked that she thought he was taking the blame of the murder of Guyan for someone else. Remarked he wasn’t and wouldn’t cover up for anyone. He said, “Even though there weren’t fingerprints on the gun, I did it alright.”

Remarked that his mother bore up well, better that [sic] he thought she would.

A McGillivary, Officer

A Pirie, Officer

 

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 3 July 25 1963

Lord Wheatley

Lord Wheatley

Lord Wheatley’s charge to the jury was timed at just short of two hours.

He summarised the evidence that had been presented and focused on the central role in the events of Margaret Guyan “who might be described as a femme fatale.”

In plain English, she appeared to be a somewhat fickle and immoral young woman but her morals are not at issue in this case … what you must decide is her honesty, reliability and accuracy as a witness. It is for you to decide whether you accept her as a credible witness.”

Lord Wheatley said there was ample evidence, if the jury accepted it, of the assault on Mrs Guyan described in charge 1.

With respect to charge 2, the murder charge, he stated that if the jury accepted the evidence of Mrs Guyan, Mrs Henderson and Miss Cattenach there could be little doubt that the murder had been established and that Henry John Burnett was the perpetrator.

He advised the jury that it is not for the Crown to prove motive although if the Crown could do so it was often an added and sometimes compelling factor in the case. “You may think it has been established almost beyond peradventure that jealousy was the motive – that the accused was jealous of the husband he had never before seen and to whom his mistress was returning.”

Lord Wheatley reminded the jury that if they thought the Crown had not proved its case in any one of its charges then that was the end of that charge.

If the jury thought the Crown had proved its case in regard to the three charges they must then consider the special defence of insanity.

In doing so you must have regard to the evidence as a whole and not just the medical evidence.”

Lord Wheatley directed the jury on the verdicts open to them. They could find Burnett guilty as libelled; they could sustain the special defence that he was insane at the time of the acts; or they could uphold the secondary defence of diminished responsibility, the effect of which would be to reduce the capital murder charge to culpable homicide.

The jury retired but returned with their verdict in barely 25 minutes with unanimous guilty verdicts on charges 1 and 3 and guilty by a majority on the capital murder charge 2.

Burnett’s sister, Mary, sitting between her father and brother Francis began to weep.

Lord Wheatley pronounced the death sentence in the set words of the time:

John Henry Burnett, in respect of the verdict of murder just received the sentence of the court is that you be taken from this place to the prison of Craiginches, therein to be detained until the 15th day of August, and upon that day within the said prison of Craiginches between the hours of eight and ten o’clock forenoon you suffer death by hanging; which is pronounced for doom.”

When he had finished, Mary stood in the public gallery and shouted, “Oh, no. They cannae dae that to him. It’s her should be in here, no him.”

Police and court officials ushered the family from the court room while Henry Burnett was taken down to holding cells and then driven to the newly refurbished condemned block at Craiginches prison, the only person ever to occupy it.

Afterwards Henry Burnett’s family told reporters both that their lawyers would be preparing an appeal and also that they would be raising a petition asking for clemency.

Among the first to sign were members of the Guyan family.

Mrs Jeannie Guyan, Thomas’s mother, said, “I can find it in my heart to forgive Henry Burnett. It’s his mother I feel sorry for. I know what she must be going through. I sent my son John along to see the Burnetts today. I am backing the petition. I don’t think Henry Burnett should hang.”

John Guyan who had only come to know the Burnetts during the trial said, “I went to see them today. They are getting up a petition and we are going along with it. I don’t think Burnett should hang. There is obviously something wrong with him.

Commentary: Lord Wheatley.

In his 1987 autobiography, One man’s Judgment, Lord Wheatley acknowledges that he delivered the last two death sentences in Scotland – John Henry Burnett and Anthony Joseph Miller. Miller was 19 when he was hanged at Barlinnie prison on 22 December 1960 for his part in what would now be called the homophobic robbery and murder of John Cremin at Queens Park Recreation Ground in April that year.

Lord Wheatley does not in fact name either the victims or the men he sentenced to death or offer any specific insight into either trial.

He does state in general terms that delivering a death sentence was “the most disagreeable task which a judge was called upon to perform” and offers a practical tip from the bench: “As he pronounced the words ‘which is pronounced for doom’, the judge held the three cornered black cap over his head. He had to do so because the cap would not with certainty balance on top of his wig, and the risk of it falling off at that dire moment could not be taken.”

Lord Wheatley continued: “I have always been an abolitionist, a fact which did not make my task easier, and I was glad to see capital punishment abolished. But a judge has to administer the law as it is, not as he would personally like it to be. The alternative would be judicial anarchy.”

Commentary: The Jury.

Robert Henderson recalled in The Last Execution radio programme: “The manager of the Douglas hotel had reserved 13 rooms for the jurors and staff in anticipation that deliberations would be protracted. They were back in 25 minutes with a verdict of guilty by a majority of 13 – 2.”

Mr Grieve and I left the court. We were pretty upset about the whole thing. When we joined the queue at the railway station ticket office we discovered we were next to the man who had been foreman of the jury. I think he had been the headmaster of a school in Montrose.

In those days you were allowed to speak to jurors though it wasn’t often done. We were offering platitudes to him about how difficult it must have been and so on and he said, ‘No, not at all. The choice was whether this man was mad or bad. I see boys like this every day who are just bad. Quite a few of the women on the jury didn’t want to see a conviction recorded. I just told them we had to do our duty. So we did our duty.’”

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 2 July 24 1963

Press coverage of his capital murder trial would have been the least of John Henry Burnett’s concerns as he emerged into the dock for the second day of his trial.

However, it is interesting that the Aberdeen Press and Journal on Wednesday July 24 ran the previous day’s proceedings only as the second lead on the front page, with more extensive reporting on page 5.

John Henry Burnett

John Henry Burnett

The P&J chose preferred to lead on the latest revelations from the Steven Ward trial in London with an appearance in the witness box, among  others, of Mandy Rice Davies. The long running prosecution in London, ostensibly on charges that Ward lived on immoral earnings, was turning out to be the story of the decade as it revealed the connections between call girls, film stars, cabinet ministers and Russian spies.

On Day 2 the jury of ten men and five women heard from one further witness for the prosecution:

Detective Inspector Robert Bell.

DI Bell spoke to charging Burnett and his reply. To the first charge of murdering Thomas Guyan Burnett replied, “I gave him both barrels. He must be dead.” He made know reply to the second and third charges.

The witnesses for the defence were:

Mrs Matilda Burnett (52), Henry Burnett’s mother.

Henry John Burnett (62), Henry Burnett’s father.

Dr Ian Lowit (42), consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Aberdeen Sick Children’s Hospital.

Dr John Gaylor (59), lecturer in neurology at Glasgow University and consultant neurologist at the Western Region Hospital Board.

As she began her evidence in chief, lead by Dr R R Taylor QC, Mrs Matilda Burnett became distressed. In the dock her son tried to get up, but was restrained by police officers, and shouted “Take her oot, tak her oot.” He too began to cry. His mother called across to him, “It’s ok, my loon. It’s ok.”

Mrs Burnett told the court that Henry was the fourth in a family of seven. He had a relatively normal childhood until, she said, he had been injured in a road traffic accident when he was 12.

Afterwards he was difficult and prone to bouts of aggression in the home and elsewhere. He played truant from school. He sometimes threatened other members of the family without any real cause. This happened if someone asked him to go a message for them.

Mrs Burnett described how he would take his sisters by throat and on one occasion had threatened one of his sisters with a sheath knife when she refused to give him money. Police had been called on that occasion and Henry had been put on a year’s probation.

Her husband worked away from home on hydro electric construction schemes but had been brought back to Edinburgh on that occasion.

Mrs Burnett also stated that Henry had been examined at the Aberdeen University department of psychological medicine at that time and had subsequently attended out patients.

On another occasion, she explained, her husband had had to put up £10 caution for Henry’s good behaviour after another incident involving two of his sisters though she could not recall the details.

In 1961 Henry had attempted to commit suicide when his girlfriend had ended their relationship. He had taken an overdose of tablets and had been taken to the casualty department at Aberdeen’s Woolmanhill hospital. “He was not like other members of the family,” said Mrs Burnett. “If anything didn’t suit him he lost the head altogether. On these occasions he turned dead white and his eyes were just staring. … To a certain extent I was frightened of him.”

Mr Henry John Burnett gave evidence that his son had been in “a good few jobs” since he left school at 15 but the average duration of each was only 4 or 5 months.

Asked how his son behave at home Mr Burnett said he wasn’t too bad but “used to take awfu’ turns. He went kinda mad. He wasn’t responsible for what he would do. You didn’t know what to expect next.”

Mr Burnett said that Henry was all right until he had his accident at the age of 12. However, in cross examination by Mr Grieve QC, Mr Burnett acknowledged that the injury had been to Henry’s legs and not his head.

Dr Ian Lowit, consultant psychiatrist, gave evidence that he had been instructed by the defence to examine Henry John Burnett at Craiginches prison on June 3 1963.

He believed he was so instructed because he had previously seen Burnett two years earlier when he was brought into the casualty department of Woolmanhill hospital as an apparent attempted suicide.

Dr Lowit said, “My diagnosis then was that he was a psychopath. I would have considered him certifiable and would have certified him but he agreed to go to hospital as a voluntary patient.”

At that time Burnett went to Kingseat hospital but had discharged himself against medical advice after only a few days.

Dr Lowit also gave evidence of EEG testing – tracing Burnett’s brain activity – and believed it showed a definite abnormality. Dr Lowit also referred to what he believed were corresponding congenital abnormalities to the left side of his body.

Taking these together with Burnett’s family history Dr Lowit stated that he believed  was manifesting indications of psychopathy, an organic mental disorder recognised under the new Mental Health Act. He said at the time of the acts he had carried out Burnett would not have been capable of assessing their consequences.

Dr Lowit was cross examined by Mr Grieve and occasionally by the trial judge, Lord Wheatley.

He agreed with Mr Grieve that the derivation of the term psychopathy was “soul sick” but disagreed that that was a typical description of every member of the criminal class. “Some criminals are psychopathic personalities,” said Dr Lowit, but some are not.”

The final witness of the day was Dr John Gaylor. In his evidence he agreed that the EEG trace had indicated a brain “irritability” at a certain location. He suggested it was most likely to have been congenital – “an atrophy or wastage of part of the brain. … It is not a progressive atrophy. I think it would have been static from the word go. It could have been caused by measles, for example, in the mother during pregnancy.”

Dr Gaylor’s evidence concluded the brief defence case. The court rose for lunch in anticipation of closing submissions in the afternoon.

Mr Grieve’s closing submission for the prosecution referred to the three charges as “the three act drama of May 31st. The drama,” he said, “was played against the sordid background of a sailor’s wife who was unfaithful to her husband when he was away at sea and the lover who could not bear to see his mistress’s favour being given to anybody but himself.”

Mr Grieve recounted the evidence of fact that had been heard in connection with each of the three charges: the assault on Margaret Guyan at Skene terrace; the shooting of Thomas Guyan at Jackson Terrace; and the stealing of a car and threatening the owner at Mutch’s Garage.

He said it was never suggested by any of the witnesses at the scene that Burnett was wholly or partially insane.

Mr Grieve told the jury, “The onus is on me to satisfy you that the charges against Burnett have been proved beyond reasonable doubt as it is for the defence to satisfy you, if they can, that the special defence of insanity has been proved.

If you do not find it proved that Burnett was insane at the time, the second line of defence is that he was not wholly responsible for his actions – that his responsibility was diminished. … If you find that his responsibility was diminished at the time , the effect of that, so far as the charge of capital murder is concerned, would be to reduce that charge to culpable homicide.

If you are satisfied that Henry Burnett murdered Thomas Guyan you must bring in a verdict of guilty and you must steel yourself to do that. The effect of that verdict has nothing to do with you. You must not be influenced by the serious consequences it has for the accused.”

In his closing submission Dr R R Taylor QC said, “If you find the accused did assault, shooting and taking of the car,then I ask you to find the accused was insane at the time of these acts, and therefore to bring in a verdict of not guilty on the ground of insanity.

The consequence of that is not that the accused is set free. The consequence is that he could be detained during her majesty’s pleasure and that, in effect, means that he will be kept in a criminal lunatic asylum so long as doctors consider that it is unsafe for him to be at large.”

Dr Grieve’s alternative submission was that if the jury was not prepared to find Burnett was insane at the time of the acts, at least they must find he was partially insane and suffering from a state of diminished responsibility. The effect of that verdict was to reduce the crime from capital murder, which carried the death penalty, to culpable homicide for which the court could impose a long sentence of imprisonment.

The trial judge, Lord Wheatley, told the jury “It would be wrong to make your deliberations at a very late stage of the afternoon or evening.”

He would make his charge to the jury in the morning.

Commentary

In an interview for the radio programme, The Last Execution, in 1996 Ian Lowit explained he was relatively recently qualified as a consultant in child psychiatry and had never given expert evidence in court before. He had never been in any court before. “It was a devastating experience. The defence counsel did not prepare me at all for what would happen.   I was completely torn to bits by the prosecution. I wasn’t at all prepared for the onslaught I was subjected to. I was completely inexperienced in such matters. …  I thought I would be examined on medical psychiatric evidence in medical psychiatric terms, not in adversarial terms. I feel they were trying to ridicule and minimise my evidence.”

Thirty years after the event Ian Lowit clearly felt he had badly let down Henry Burnett.

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 1 July 23 1963

Scotland’s last capital murder trial began in Aberdeen 50 years ago today.

In the dock was John Henry Burnett. He pleaded not guilty to the murder of Thomas Guyan, the husband of Margaret Guyan, with whom Burnett had begun an intense relationship.

On the bench was Lord Wheatley.

The prosecution was led by advocate depute, W. R. (Bertie) Grieve. His junior was Robert

Thomas Guyan

Thomas Guyan

Henderson, newly called to the bar. As Robert Henderson later recalled in The last Execution radio programme,  he was the only person in the Advocates Library the day that Bertie Grieve had popped in looking for a junior. “You’ll do”,  he said. Henderson’s first case of any sort was a capital murder case.

The defence was led by Dr R.R. Taylor QC. Dr Taylor was more of an academic lawyer. He was a lecturer in International Private Law at Edinburgh University without much evident experience of criminal defence. There was no legal aid for criminal defence until 1964 and Dr Taylor would have offered his services to the Poor Roll administration.

Burnett faced three charges:

1 That on May 31, 1963, in the house occupied Gerald Ashley, 40 Skene Terrace, Aberdeen, he assaulted Mrs Margaret Mary Guyan, 14 Jackson terrace, Aberdeen, cut her on the neck with a knife and seized her by the throat.

2 In the house occupied by Mrs Annie Henderson, 14 Jackson terrace, Aberdeen, he shot Thomas Guyan in the head, murdered him”and such is capital murder”.

3 At the garage occupied by Mr James G Mutch (Motors) Ltd., Seaforth Road, Aberdeen, he assaulted John Innes Irvine, 13 Canal Street, Aberdeen, presented a loaded shotgun at him, threatened to shoot him and robbed him of a motor car.

Dr Taylor lodged a special defence of insanity on Burnett’s behalf.

Of course, noone could know for sure that this would be Scotland’s last capital murder trial. There was a certain amount of panoply outside the courtroom. Robert Henderson recalls large crowds waiting outside the court and Lord Wheatley stepping out to inspect a guard of honour from the Gordon Highlanders before proceedings began and that the public benches were full.

The prosecution witnesses heard on the first day were:

Mrs Margaret Guyan, wife of the deceased, Thomas Guyan.

Mrs Annie Henderson (64), Margaret Guyan’s grandmother.

Mrs Edith Burnett (29), Henry Burnett’s sister in law.

Mrs Georgina Cattenach (66),

David Cousins (13)

Mrs William Phillips (42)

Mr John Irvine (25)

PC James G Reaper (28)

The first witness was Margaret Guyan. In barely an hour in the witness box she  explained how she had an unhappy marriage with Thomas Guyan. They had married in February 1957 and had a son in September 1958. Thomas Guyan served in the merchant navy and was at sea for long periods of time.

Mrs Guyan had another son in February 1961. Thomas Guyan was not the father.

Mrs Guyan had gone to see a solicitor about a divorce. She had asked Thomas Guyan for a divorce in 1962 but he had refused.

She had begun working at John R Stephen, fish curers, in December 1962 and had met Henry Burnett there. They had become friendly.

Mrs Guyan left here job there in April 1963 and Burnett had also left a few days later. They started seeing each other virtually every day.

In May they moved in together at Burnett’s parent’s house in Powis Crescent Aberdeen for 5 days. Initially she had both her children with her but her grandmother turned up and took the oldest son away. Mrs Guyan and Burnett then both moved with her younger son into a sublet at 40 Skene Terrace as man and wife.

Mrs Guyan explained that her Grandmother told her her husband had returned from sea and wanted to meet her. She also explained that on the afternoon of 31 May she had asked her grandmother if she could leave Skene terrace and move in with her.

In the afternoon  she met her husband and they went for a drink at the White Cockade bar in Torry. She told him she had been living with Henry Burnett. Thomas Guyan asked her to come back to her and she agreed.

At 4pm she and Thomas Guyan went to her grandmother’s house at Jackson Terrace. She told him to stay there while she, her grandmother and another neighbour, Mrs Cattenach took a taxi  to Skene Terrace to collect her younger son.

 

Burnett was in and she told him she was moving out to live with her grandmother.

Burnett shouted, “Margaret, Margaret. You’re not going to leave me”. He also shouted to Mrs Henderson, waiting outside, if Margaret was going back to her husband. She replied, “I don’t know but she’s not getting a divorce.”

Mrs Guyan told the court Burnett then pulled her inside. He took a knife from the sideboard and held it to her throat. Mrs Henderson and another neighbour started banging at the door. Burnett opened the door and ran out.

Margaret Guyan, her grandmother and Mrs Cattenach then went back to Jackson Terrace where they had a meal in the kitchen.

Some time later Henry Burnett appeared at Jackson Terrace and pushed his way in past Mrs Henderson who had opened the door.

Thomas Guyan opened the kitchen door at the commotion. Margaret Guyan said, “Harry Burnett was standing there with a gun. … [he said] ‘I have got you now’ and shot him. He loaded the gun again and said he was going to shoot a’body else.”

Margaret Guyan said she told Henry Burnett, “Don’t shoot anybody else. Don’t shoot anybody else. I’ll come with you.”

She described how she and Burnett walked up Urquhart lane and across Seaforth Road to Mutch’s garage where a man was putting petrol in his car. Burnett pointed the gun at him and demanded the keys of the car. They drove out onto the Peterhead Road.

“As we were driving he asked me if they had done away with hanging. I said I didn’t know. He said he was going to give himself up.”

Burnett saw a police car behind them. He stopped his car, got out and gave himself up.

“On the way back to Aberdeen he began to cry and asked her if I would stand by him. I said yes.”

Mrs Annie Henderson’s evidence gave some more detail on the relationship between Margaret Guyan and Henry Burnett and on the events of the 31st May.

“I told him many times to stay away from Margaret for his own good but he said he couldn’t.”

On the evening of the shooting she said that she had started to scream when Burnett pushed past her.  After the shot was fired Margaret Guyan and Henry Burnett had run out past her. “She had no shoes on and no coat.”

When she looked into the scullery, “I saw Tommy lying on the floor. … one side of his face was shot off. There was a lot of blood.”

Burnett’s sister in law, Mrs Edith Burnett, gave evidence that Henry Burnett had called at her house in Bridge of Don and borrowed her husband’s shotgun. Later on her husband heard that Henry Burnett had been arrested.

Mrs Cattenach gave evidence about the shooting itself. Henry Burnett had pushed past her in Jackson Terrace. She heard him say “I’ve got you.” She then saw him fire the gun into Thomas Guyan’s face.

David Cousins, 13 years old, lived with his grandparents in the flat above Annie Henderson at Jackson Terrace.

He heard the shot and came out to see Henry Burnett and Margaret Guyan come out of the flat. Burnett pointed the gun at him and told him to go back inside.

Mrs Cattenach told him to call the police and he had run to the phone box in Urquhart Road to dial 999.

Mrs William Philips gave evidence that she had been in Urquhart Road when she saw a man with a shotgun and a woman approach a car being filled with petrol at Mutch’s garage. She saw them get into the car and drive away. She later picked out the man in a police identity parade. He was identified as Henry Burnett.

John Irvine told the court it was his car that was being filled with petrol by a garage attendant. He said Henry Burnett said he was taking the car. “I thought he was funning but he said ‘I’ve killed once and I’ll kill again’”. When they drove off he too ran to telephone 999.

PC Reaper told the court he and PC Mitchell heard the report of a stolen car. At about 6pm they saw it about 2 miles north of Ellon and gave chase. The driver gave a hand signal that he was slowing down and about to pull over. PC Reaper said Henry Burnett got out with his hands up and said “I’m the man you want”.

They searched the car and found a shotgun on the back seat.

The court rose at 4pm. The case is expected to conclude tomorrow [-50 years].