It remains one of the most daring heists in British criminal history carried out by four fresh-faced students from Glasgow University.

It was a crime that struck at the heart of the British establishment and threatened to derail the future coronation of the present Queen.

Those responsible faced charges of treason and their story was splashed across the front pages of the world's newspapers.

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Glasgow Times:

The theft of the Stone of Destiny had taken place in London.

However the police investigation centred on Glasgow and led in turn to one of the city's biggest ever security operations.

The drama first unfolded in the early hours of Christmas Day 1950.

A young police officer had spotted a Ford Anglia car outside Westminster Abbey and a young couple inside.

He approached the car and saw the pair in a passionate embrace oblivious to his presence.

The bobby knocked on the windscreen and was told they had been unable to find a room for the night and were instead making do with the car.

Convinced by their frank explanation he bid the couple good night and continued on his foot patrol.

However the pair weren't amorous lovers but two key members of the Stone of Destiny theft gang.

The ancient 24 stone slab of red sandstone with it's two distinctive rings at either end had been taken minutes earlier from the Abbey.

However during the theft it broke in two and the gang were forced to load both parts into the Ford Anglia.

At that point the bobby turned up and the couple faked a snog to distract his attention before all four made their escape.

When the theft was discovered the next day it caused an international sensation.

The Stone of Destiny, said to be an ancient coronation stone for Scots kings, had been taken by Edward I in 1296 and removed to Westminster Abbey as a spoil of war.

An investigation was launched by the Metropolitan Police and the border between Scotland and England also closed off for the first time in 400 years.

The Met correctly assumed the stolen stone was heading to Scotland and contacted the Chief Constable of Glasgow Malcolm McCulloch.

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Glasgow Times:

He in turn decided it was a job for his best investigator, Detective Inspector William Kerr, above, Head of Special Branch to establish if anyone from the city was involved.

Around this time Scotland Yard also sent up two of their top detectives to liase with their Scottish colleagues.

They were based at the Whitburn Police Training School in West Lothian for easy access to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Kerr's team quickly discovered the broken stone had been taken for repair to a masonry company in Sauchiehall Street owned by nationalist sympathiser Robert Gray. However when they raided his yard it was gone.

Detective Inspector Kerr realised the gang had detailed knowledge of the Stone and the Abbey to carry out the crime.

One of the few places in Scotland that contained that information was Glasgow's Mitchell Library.

He discovered that one man had take out nearly every book on the subject before the theft.

Glasgow Times:

Glasgow Times:

That man was 25 year old Glasgow University law student and Scottish nationalist Ian Hamilton, one part of the kissing couple.

Further investigations revealed he hadn't been by seen at his usual haunts in the city over the festive period.

It then emerged that three fellow students Gavin Vernon, Hamilton's snogging partner Kay Matheson and an Alan Stuart had also been involved in the conspiracy.

They were all members of the Scottish Covenant Association, who were campaigning for a Scottish Parliament.

Hamilton was the son of a Paisley tailor, Vernon a 24 years old engineering student from Aberdeenshire, Matheson a 22 year old trainee domestic science teacher from Inverasdale West Highlands, while Alan, from Bishopbriggs, studying civil engineering, was the youngest at 20.

Four months later the Stone of Destiny was taken from Glasgow and left at Arbroath Abbey on April 10, 1951 - where the Declaration of Scottish Independence had been drawn up in 1320.

Glasgow Times:

That same evening, the Stone was brought to Glasgow under police escort and kept in the office of the Head of Glasgow C.I.D. at the Central Police Office in Turnbull Street in the Saltmarket.

There was massive newspaper interest and the Central Police Office was surrounded by the world's Press who had their own cars waiting to follow any police cars returning the stone to London.

The plan was to transport the Stone of Destiny at dawn in a limousine with a police Jaguar escort car, via Whitburn to pick up the two Scotland Yard detectives, then head south to London.

However the police had heard that one group of nationalists were planning to prevent the ancient relic being removed from Scotland.

It was then decided to transport the stone in the police jag and use the limo as a decoy.

Around 5:15am on Friday, April 13, 1951 the gates were opened and the police Jaguar car carrying Detective Inspector William Kerr and the Stone of Destiny sped out of the yard heading south.

At 5:20am the limo, with a police car at the front and rear, emerged at speed and headed eastwards.

The Press cars fell in behind the three official cars not realising the stone had been switched and was already heading over the border.

On arrival at Westminster Abbey, the Stone of Destiny was put into a high secure vault for sake keeping.

After the death of King George VI in February 1952 it was used in the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth the following year.

At the time of the theft it had been feared that any future Coronation would not be legitimate without the stone.

None of the four thieves were ever charged as it was felt that the British establishment had been caused enough embarrassment.

Sir Hartley Shawcross, the Attorney General, told the House of Commons that he had no desire to create 'martyrs' or 'heroes'.

After graduating from university, Hamilton had a successful career in criminal law as an Advocate and was made a Queen’s Counsel.

Vernon graduated in electrical engineering and emigrated to Canada in the 1960’s. He lived in British Columbia until his death in March 2004.

Kay Matheson returned to Inverasdale and was a teacher in the local primary school until her retirement. She passed away in 2013.

Alan Stuart, the youngest of the conspirators, had a successful business career in Glasgow and died, aged 88, in 2019.

In 1996 the Stone of Destiny was returned to Scotland and can now be seen at Edinburgh Castle.

Last December Holyrood announced it would be moved to a new museum in Perth in three years time.

The only time it will return to Westminster Abbey will be for future coronations.

In 2008 the incredible story was turned into a movie starring Robert Carlyle based on a book by Ian Hamilton.

He is the sole survivor of the gang of four.

Glasgow Times:

Now aged 95, the father of four lives near Oban following his retirement from the law profession.

In a rare interview he told the Glasgow Times:"I wasn't questioned about the theft until after the stone had been returned.

"The inquiry was led by the big boys from London and the Glasgow police did not like that at all

"One day a young Glasgow detective came to my digs about 7:30am to took me to the police HQ to be questioned by a senior detective from London and his assistant.

"I asked him the time, joking that I had lost my watch in Westminster Abbey.

"He found that very funny.

"I realised then that they ( the Glasgow police) really didn't want anything to do with this.

"The police in London were putting pressure on them, but they were having none of it."

After the stone was returned the four finally went public over their part in the theft and became national celebrities.

Ian Hamilton, as ringleader, was invited to speak at packed meetings across Scotland where he was given a heroes welcome.

He added:"I think the reason we weren't charged with theft was that the whole of Scotland was on our side including the police.

"I remember one senior officer said at the time:

'We're looking for them but not that hard.'"