THE TRUTH behind the origins and fate of Scotland's true Stone of Destiny will probably never be fully known.

Yesterday's announcement ensures that the stone currently housed beneath the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey will be returned to Scotland. However, there is some doubt that it is the genuine Stone of Scone on which Scottish monarchs were crowned.

Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth said that, after the Stone was recovered following its theft from Westminster Abbey, it was scientifically analysed. ``These scientific files have been kept secret up to now,'' he said, ``but they will now be published.''

Despite a lack of concrete evidence, it is questioned whether the stone taken by Edward I 700 years ago was the genuine article. The little documentary evidence which exists describes the stone as round and concave, as would be expected of a seat or throne. And the document seal for Scone Abbey, the original home of the stone, shows the stone as backless seat or stool. Yet the stone at Westminster is shaped like a slab or block.

This has led to rumours that the then Abbot of Scone hid the genuine stone when news reached him that Edward was advancing on the Abbey. It is said he handed over either a building slab from a nearby construction work or the cover for a cess pit.

Possible locations of the secreted, genuine stone are based on pure guesswork, with some, not surprisingly, suggesting the area surrounding the Abbey. Others swear it is hidden on the holy island of Iona.

Another claim is that the true stone, a block of black, polished meteorite from the Middle East, was found during excavation work at Dunsinnan Hill, near Scone, and taken to an unknown hiding place.

The most commonly mooted theory is that a copy was made when the stone was taken from Westminster in 1950. It is known that a stonemason was involved in repair work after it had been returned north of the Border.

And councillor Bertie Gray, who was involved in its eventual return to London, claims that a fake was handed back and the real stone was entrusted to the care of a group of dedicated guardians.

One of those was the Rev John Mackay Nimmo, who kept it in his parish church of St Columba's in Dundee for 17 years. When the church was forced to close in 1989, it is said the Scottish Knights Templar bought a disused church at Dull, near Aberfeldy, to house the stone. It remains in the church today, although it was also exhibited at the People's Palace in Glasgow in 1990.

The Knights Templar, however, believe that the Stone of Destiny is in fact four separate stones: the well-documented Stone of Scone; St Columba's Seat; the Pictish Stone; and the Celtic Stone.

Emeritus professor of Scottish history at Glasgow University Archie Duncan cast doubt on stories that the genuine stone was not taken by Edward.

Aberdeen University's reader in Scottish history, Grant Simpson, said the only known fact was that a stone thought to be the ancient artefact was plundered by the English monarch. Beyond that, he added, much was based on speculation.

He said it was difficult to pinpoint the origins of the stone at Westminster Abbey based on geological analysis because it was a type of sandstone found commonly throughout Scotland. But he doubted it could have been switched in 1950 because straightforward tests could have been carried out to establish its authenticity.

The author of a book on the Stone of Destiny, Pat Gerber, also says that the stone under the throne at Westminster Abbey was never the real one in the first place.

Many people who have studied the issue, she says, believe that Edward I was fobbed off with a crude block of sandstone 700 years ago when he purloined it on a raid in Scotland.

Historian Ms Gerber said yesterday: ``Edward, of course, thought the Scots were a lot of heathens and didn't expect the Stone of Scone to be anything beautiful, which is why he was duped with a lump of flawed sandstone.

``The real stone was of marble, with a great deal of intricate carving, and a thing of great beauty.''

She added: ``I believe that original stone is still buried somewhere in Scotland, possibly near Scone, or at Finlaggan, on Islay, which was the seat of the Lords of the Isles. There was an archaeological dig there which was halted when the money ran out. It might be interesting if it was restarted.''