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Published 28th February 2008 by

Campaigners have submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for the last woman convicted under the Witchcraft Act to be pardoned.

Helen Duncan spent nine months in Holloway prison after being found guilty at a trial in 1944. She had told a seance a warship had sunk before the news had been officially announced.

A second petition calls for all those convicted under witchcraft legislation in Scotland to be pardoned.

Both petitions have been organised by a paranormal group, Full Moon Investigations. A petition to the Westminster Government last year failed to secure a pardon for Mrs Duncan. This new document calls on the Scottish Government to urge the Home Secretary to reconsider the case.

Helen Duncan, pictured in a portrait from 1931, was jailed for nine months in 1944 under the Witchcraft Act of 1735

Helen Duncan, pictured in a portrait from 1931, was jailed for nine months in 1944 under the Witchcraft Act of 1735


Mrs Duncan, born in Callander, Perthshire, held a seance at which the spirit of a dead sailor was said to have revealed the loss of the battleship HMS Barham with most of her crew. The sinking had been kept secret by the authorities to maintain wartime morale.

Roberta Gordon presented the signatures to Frank McAveety, convener of the public petitions committee, at Holyrood.

Mrs Gordon, who has been a medium for more than 28 years, said: "I feel that at the time the country was paranoid about security with D-Day coming up and the evidence used against her wasn't accurate.

"It would take away the stigma of the family that is still living, the granddaughters, the great-grandsons and she has got a great-granddaughter. "For them to know that Helen Duncan is not classed as a witch would be the icing on the cake."

The campaigners claim about 4,000 people were convicted under the Witchcraft legislation in force between 1563 and 1736, 85% of them women. The petition states that torture was used to extract confessions as late as 1704 and those convicted were almost always strangled before their body was burnt.

The petition states: "Many of today's professions have their roots in tradition and what could be seen as mystical wisdom.

"Professions such as mediumship, herbalists, midwifery, Reiki and many alternative therapies, to name just a few."

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