HISTORY will always remember the four Glasgow university students who stole the Stone of Destiny.

Sixty nine years ago today, the quartet – who had taken the stone from Westminster Abbey four months previously – left it draped in a Scottish national flag on the high altar of Arbroath Abbey.

“STONE HANDED OVER” announced the Evening Times on its front page.

“A party of unknown people today returned the Stone of Destiny to Mr James Wishart, custodian of the ruined abbey at Arbroath.

“It was at 12.25pm that the Stone was returned and it has been placed on the high altar on the grave of King William the Lion …on top had been placed two large envelopes, one addressed to the King and the other to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.”

A shocked Mr Wishart told the newspaper that three men had brought it in a private car and asked if he would take it. He agreed, and then added, enchantingly: “The three men shook my hand and left. In the excitement I forgot to ask their names…”

Glasgow Times:

It marked the end of a mystery which had dominated the press for weeks – but it was not the end of the story.

Ian Hamilton, Kay Matheson, Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart were supporters of Scottish independence.

They were determined to “repatriate” the Stone of Destiny, an ancient 336lb block which had been used for centuries for the coronation of Scottish kings. It was captured in 1296 by Edward I - known as the Hammer of the Scots - who placed it in Westminster Abbey and it had remained there ever since, inside the coronation chair used for English monarchs.

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They travelled to London and in the early hours of Christmas Day 1950, broke in to Westminster Abbey by crowbarring open a side door.

Speaking at the 2008 premiere of a film about the adventure, Ian Hamilton said when a passing policeman looked vaguely suspicious of him and Kay loitering at a getaway car, they started kissing, convincing the cop they were just a courting couple.

“These were the days before hi-tech security. Anyway, why would anyone ever think about breaking into Westminster Abbey?” he said. “There was a night watchman who occasionally made patrols but I imagine he spent most of his time with his feet up against an electric fire, reading a book.”

Glasgow Times:

While Kay waited outside, the others moved the stone, managing to break it in the process. Kay took the smaller piece away in her car – managing to evade police roadblocks - and the others hid the bigger section in a wood until things calmed down.

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When they did get both pieces home to Scotland, they admitted they had no idea what to do with it, so on April 11, 1951, they left it in the ruins of Arbroath Abbey, where the declaration of independence was signed in 1320.

The police tracked down the culprits eventually, but no charges were ever made.

Glasgow Times:

Mr Hamilton told The Observer newspaper in 2008, when a film based on his book about the 1950s incident was released, that the government had feared Scots would take to the streets if the students had ended up in the courts.

The stone was returned to Westminster Abbey but in 1996, it came back to Scotland and it is now kept at Edinburgh Castle.