SPOOKED thieves fled a graveyard in terror after accidentally smashing open a tomb filled with 600-year-old skeletons, it is claimed.
Yobs are thought to have been stripping lead from historic St Nicholas Buccleuch Parish Church when their ladder slipped and burst through the ancient lair.
The mishap exposed a stash of bones in a three foot-deep void in the ground, which had been covered by stone slabs.
And sources suspect the terrified louts fled empty-handed after spotting the sacred remains.
One insider revealed: “We don’t know who the bones belong to. They are historic human remains.
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“The graveyard dates back 600 years so it could be anyone.
“Somebody tried to steal lead from the building. They broke through a paving stone and opened up a void. It’s possible that whoever was doing that was spooked and ran off.”
A ladder and lead rainwater drain were found dumped nearby in Dalkeith, Midlothian.
Local resident Sofiane Sanhaji, 26, feared foul play when he spotted the remains on a cemetery stroll with his girlfriend.
He said: “We were walking through the graveyard and saw the tomb. It was open and about three feet deep. It had been smashed open and there were bones visible.
“It looked suspicious, like it had been smashed open deliberately.
“It’s since been sealed off. It was too much damage for it to have been an accident.”
The church is named after St Nicholas — the patron saint of repentant thieves — who was known for performing miracles.
Archaeologists suspect the bones were once in a marked grave and shifted to their current position over time.
A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “The graveyard round St Nicholas Buccleuch Parish Church dates back around 600 years.
“A paved area surrounds the building and there is evidence that a metal ladder was placed against a wall, with the feet resting on a slab which broke under a person’s weight, exposing a hole in which historic remains were found.
“While it is unclear if the motivation was theft, office bearers discovered that a lead rainwater drain had been removed from the wall and was found near pieces of the broken slab.
“As soon as the hole was discovered, a local building company was called. A temporary cover was carefully placed over the hole, taking care not to disturb the remains.”
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He went on: “The area was coned off to make people aware that it was a hazard and the police were informed.
“Officers attended and inspected the scene and a member of East Lothian Council’s archaeology service carried out a site visit.
“The council officer advised office bearers to ensure that the bones were not disturbed, kept within the void beneath the hole, and arrange for the broken paving slab to be replaced.
“This work has now been carried out.”
Police confirmed they had been made aware of the grisly July 13 find.
But a force spokesman insisted: “The bones are historic in nature and there are no suspicious circumstances.”
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