Tag Archives: Thomas Guyan


Henry John Burnett was hanged at one minute past eight at Craiginches prison this morning.

 The Aberdeen Evening Express reported that “a crowd of around 200 men and women stood in silence in the watery sunshine outside the prison. The only demonstrator was ice-cream salesman, Mr John Gibson (29), who wore placards saying ‘Abolish Legal Murder’ and ‘Vengeance is Mine Sayeth the Lord’.

He paraded along the pavement near the prison gates where five policemen stood guard.

The only hint of trouble came at 8.15am when seven warders came out of the prison. There was a minor outburst of booing and a cry of ‘You murderers’.

Five minutes later a senior police official told the waiting crowd: ‘It’s all over. There will be no notice posted on the gates. You can all go home now.’”

A formal statement was issued later from the scottish Home and Health Department:

The sentence of death for capital murder passed on Henry John Burnett at the High Court in Aberdeen on July 25, 1963, was executed this morning at H.M.Prison Aberdeen.


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


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


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

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

3.8.1963       Visit from Sister and Brother in Law. Conversation was of family matters and how his brother in law was doing at sea.  Went on to say why he did not Appeal, said he just didn’t want to Appeal, but would rather wait for the results of his petition.

I asked him for his reasons for not appealing, he said, “This way there is only one in trouble, it’s the better way.”

A McGillivray           Officer

A Pirie                      Officer

3.8.1963     Prisoner listened to wireless and spoke of the different recording stars.   He was quite cheerful and played dominos till 1.30am. He then asked to write a letter to Mrs Guyan.  When he finished writing he said, I will not take any more visits from anyone after next Friday.

Also spoke about his appeal period being finished on Tuesday and about working in a Quarry for a period and the times he had with some of the chaps he worked with.

E Bissett                Officer

J Duncan               Officer


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

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

I have to refer to telephone communication with Mr Davison today regarding authority for Mrs Guyan to visit the above named prisoner. I contacted the Welfare Officer, Mr Meiklejohn and asked if he would be prepared to contact Mrs Guyan and bring her along to the prison for the purpose of this visit.  This was done immediately and Mrs Guyan brought up to the prison.  She was taken back to her home immediately after the visit.

No incident occurred during the visit and there was no publicity in this matter.

He has made a further request to see Mrs Guyan on Wednesday next.? What is the position please.

Joseph Maison C.O. i/c.

2.8.1963 Visit by Mrs M Guyan (murdered man’s wife) with Welfare Officer Meiklejohn. P.O. Fraser in attendance.

Exchange of talk about families.  Prisoner told Mrs Guyan to destroy letter which she had received from him,  Asking why W.O. Was in presence at visit. Was told, she, Mrs Guyan, had been driven up by him. Inquiring about taken in photos. Answered.

Mrs Guyan replied to letter sent by prisoner this morning. Prisoner asked if Mrs Guyan handled gun, she replied, “Yes I took it from you.”

Burnett asked Mrs Guyan if she is going to new employment. Thinking of taking employment somewhere south.

Mr Meiklejohn was in presence during whole of visit which ended at 12.30pm. Prisoner very cheerful after visit.

F.S. Parker Officer

C. Riddoch Officer

2.8.1963 Prisoner very cheerful indeed and told us about his visit from Mrs Guyan and how happy he was because he saw her.  Said he hoped she got in again.

He received a further visit from his brother and sister-in-law and returned very cheerful. Visit conversation was mainly on family matters and brothers work. Except, brother asked who cleaned fingerprints off the gun, “Prisoner said he didn’t”. Talk of the petition and number of names on it.

Remarked that consealed doors were more solid than they were before. Said somebody must have fixed them.  Prisoner said he was going to get into bed and sleep tonight, said he felt better after that visit with Margaret, (Mrs Guyan).  Prisoner very cheerful indeed.

A. McGillivary Officer

G. Pirie Officer

 2.8.1963  Prisoner spoke about his visit from Mrs M Guyan and said “He hoped to have another visit from her soon.  No games were played, prisoner lay on bed reading till he fell asleep.  Very little conversation was held before he slept.

E. Bissett Officer

J. Duncan Officer


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


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


Report of trial judge to Secretary of State for Scotland.


 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.




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.”


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



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.’”