Dilys Rose's new novel Unspeakable concerns Thomas Aikenhead (1676-1697), a Scottish student from Edinburgh, who was prosecuted and executed at the age of 20 on a charge of blasphemy (Speaking up for the hanged man, Books, Sunday Herald Life, March 19).

He was the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy. It is interesting to learn the Church of Scotland's role in this affair. Aikenhead petitioned the Privy Council to consider his "deplorable circumstances and tender years". Also, he had forgotten to mention that he was also a first-time offender. Two ministers and two Privy Councillors pleaded on his behalf, but to no avail. On January 7, after another petition, the Privy Council ruled that they would not grant a reprieve unless the church interceded for him. The Church of Scotland's General Assembly, sitting in Edinburgh at the time, urged "vigorous execution" to curb "the abounding of impiety and profanity in this land". Thus Aikenhead’s sentence was confirmed. So much for Matthew 5:44.

In October, 2016, I wrote to Edinburgh City Councillors canvassing their support for a statue of Thomas Aikenhead, to inform or remind people of the brief life and circumstances of his death. I felt that such a statue would draw attention to the fact that there was a time in our history, when the Christian religion was in a much more powerful and influential position in our society, a time when its influence and actions were not always as humane as perhaps they could or should have been.

Doug Clark