The former superintendent of the Capital’s Mount Vernon cemetery has pleaded guilty to fraud after selling forged burial deeds for cash in hand.
William “Willie” Henderson, 46, today pleaded guilty to one charge of “fraudulent scheme” in relation to his employment at Mount Vernon cemetery in Liberton.
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Henderson’s criminal activities typically involved him identifying and selling space in the cemetery to use for burials, for example unused space under access paths.
However two cases involved “over burial”, where grieving families were sold plots believing them to be empty when in fact they already contained a deceased person.
It is estimated that Henderson’s activities defrauded the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh of thousands of pounds.
In total, Henderson’s criminal scheme involved 13 individual instances of fraud between 2006 and 2015.
The news was welcomed by the Archdiocese of St Andrews the Edinburgh.
Chief operating officer, Dr Elspeth Atkinson, said: “There are two victims of Willie Henderson’s criminal behaviour: The Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh which has been defrauded of 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. 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.”
Willie Henderson was employed at Mount Vernon Cemetery from 1997 until 2015.
He became acting superintendent of the cemetery in October 2012 and was confirmed in that post in March 2014. During this time, Mount Vernon Cemetery operated at arms length from central administration of the Archdiocese with responsibility for its management being largely entrusted to the on-site cemetery superintendent.
The arrival of Archbishop Leo Cushley as the new Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in September 2013 saw the beginning of a review and overhaul of the internal governance of the Archdiocese.
That process began to bring to light some concerns regarding the on-site management of Mount Vernon Cemetery in late 2014.
On January 22, 2015, the Archdiocese received a complaint from an undertaker regarding a potentially fraudulent burial deed.
The next day, Henderson agreed to go on leave while the complaint was investigated by the Archdiocese. Police Scotland were also alerted.
At the same time, the responsibility for the administration of burials at Mount Vernon was removed from the on-site office at the cemetery and given over to staff at the headquarters of the Archdiocese based in Edinburgh.
Henderson was formally suspended by the Archdiocese on April 17, 2015 ,tendered his resignation on May 1, 2015.
In November 2016, Henderson was then arrested by Police Scotland and charged with fraud. The charge of fraud refers to any theft which was also followed by fraudulent adjustment of the burial record and sales ledger.
In anticipation of Henderson’s arrest in November 2016, the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh established a telephone hotline for anybody concerned that they had been affected by his criminal activities.
Meanwhile, all those identified by Police Scotland as being affected by Henderson’s crimes were given a personal letter from Archbishop Cushley expressing his sympathy and solidarity followed by an invitation to contact the Archdiocese for both practical and pastoral support.
Dr Atkinson added: “It was the overhaul of the internal governance of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and 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.”
Henderson, of Baird’s Way, entered the plea this morning at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. The case has been adjourned until September 29 for a social work report to be prepared.
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Grainger, who led on this investigation, said: “William Henderson targeted vulnerable families when they were grieving and distressed.
“He offered them plots within Mount Vernon Cemetery, when no such sites were available, for his own individual financial gain.
“His deception and exploitation led to Henderson amassing thousands of pounds from these families, which, he hid from his employers.
“This was a challenging and complex investigation from the beginning and involved officers having to engage with families who had been defrauded by Henderson over a number of years.
“In many some of these occasions they had to relive very painful memories and discuss the deaths of loved ones and so we took a very sensitive approach so we could provide them with all the support and assistance they required, while conducting our inquiries to gather evidence.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all families who supported us in our enquiry.
“While nothing can undo the distress Henderson’s actions have had on the families affected, I hope that today’s outcome will offer them some comfort that both Police Scotland and the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh have taken significant action to bring the perpetrator to justice and to ensure something like this does not happen at the cemetery again.”