Thieves steal skull from 200-year-old tomb and play football with it - now it’s returned to Thetford church

The skull of James Mingay has been returned to the crypt in which his coffin was in, after it was ta

The skull of James Mingay has been returned to the crypt in which his coffin was in, after it was taken out 2 years ago at St Mary the Less Church in Thetford - PCSO Gavin Tampin puts the skull back in the lead coffin. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The skull of James Mingay, who died in 1801, was stolen from his coffin two years ago. Yesterday, it was finally returned to the family tomb.

When James Mingay was buried at Thetford's St Mary the Less church in 1801, he was the first to be interred in the family crypt.

Over the years, the surgeon was joined by seven more of his family - including his son James Jr, an MP and respected laywer - laid to peaceful rest for evermore.

And save for trespassing creepy crawlies, his body laid sealed in its coffin, undisturbed, for more than 200 years.

That was until 2013.

The historic Grade II* listed church had been sealed and derelict since 2004, but intruders broke into the building, and smashed their way into the vault.

Once inside, they prised open Mr Mingay's coffin taking a prominent item - his skull.

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According to police, the thieves were then seen throwing the skull around, and even playing football with it.

It was later found by a member of the public dumped on the picturesque Spring Walk and handed into police.

Noone was ever arrested in relation to the incident.

Officers were unable to return the skull to its rightful place - with no way to contact the owner at the time - leaving it lying in a sealed box at Thetford Police station.

But earlier this year, the building was bought by restoration specialist, Dr Jenny Freeman, and an arrangement was made to return Mr Mingay's skull.

Yesterday, Rev Tony Heywood, from the Thetford Team Ministry, read prayers as the skull was finally replaced. A lead plaque to mark the grave was also returned.

PCSO Gavin Tampin, Breckland Police diversity liaison officer, brought back the skull, and said the macabre ceremony was not an everyday piece of police work, but was important nonetheless.

'We have had real trouble getting hold of the owner of the church and we're pleased we've finally been able to reinter the skull.

'We wanted the reverend here to give the appropriate respect,' he said.

Have you been involved in an unusual service? Let us know by emailing andrew.fitchett@archant.co.uk

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