TRIBUTES have been paid to the prominent Scottish nationalist and lawyer Ian Hamilton KC, who has died at the age of 97. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described him as a "giant" of the independence movement. 

He is best known for his role in the audacious plot to take the Stone of Destiny from under the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey and bring it back to Scotland

The Paisley-born law student who masterminded the heist avoided prosecution and went on to become one of the country’s most senior and well-respected advocates.

Taking to Twitter, the First Minister said: "I am extremely sad to hear of Ian Hamilton’s death. He was a lawyer of exceptional quality and a legend of the independence movement.

"He will long be remembered as one of the Christmas 1950 liberators of the Stone of Destiny.

"During my time as the SNP leader, I have received occasional words of wisdom, encouragement and support from him, which I will always treasure.

"He is one of the many giants on whose shoulders the modern SNP stands. My condolences go to his loved ones."

READ MORE: ‘We were the ones who stole the Stone of Destiny’

Roddy Dunlop KC, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates said he was "deeply saddened" by Mr Hamilton's passing, and described him as a "Faculty legend, renowned for his fearless advocacy, effortless bonhomie".

"Ian was a great friend, and a lovely man: he will be sorely missed," he added.

Former SNP minister Alex Neil described Mr Hamilton as a “true patriot”. 

“Very sorry to hear that Ian Hamilton has passed away,” he tweeted. “Ian’s daring recovery of the Stone of Destiny along with Kay Matheson and others will be remembered for a thousand years. He was a man of distinction, a great thinker and a true patriot.”

Gavin Newlands, the SNP MP for Paisley & Renfrewshire North tweeted: "Very sorry to learn that Paisley’s very own, Ian Hamilton has died. 

"An accomplished advocate, he will be remembered best as an independence campaigner."

The politician described Mr Hamilton as a "towering figure" in the independence movement.

During the Wars of Independence, the Stone of Destiny was looted from Scone, Perthshire, and taken south in 1296 by Edward I where it was placed beneath the coronation throne in Westminster Abbey. 

It stayed there for most of the next 650 years, only being moved for safekeeping during the war, and again when Mr Hamilton, engineering students Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart, and domestic science teacher Kay Matheson “repatriated” the stone to Scotland. 

READ MORE: Stone of Destiny hero Ian Hamilton: independence is an inevitability

The students, who were all involved in the Scottish Covenant Association, a movement supporting home rule, travelled south three days before Christmas. 

Mr Hamilton snuck into the Abbey on Christmas Eve, hiding behind a statue. The whole endeavour almost ended when a night watchman found him.

But the good-natured guard believed the student when he said he’d been locked in and assumed he was homeless. He offered him money and turned him out.

Mr Hamilton did not go far. With the surrounding streets deserted on Christmas Eve, the three male students managed to break into the Abbey through a side door and prised the stone out from under the Coronation Chair. 

It took them minutes. 

However, the stone, which weighed 152kg, crashed to the floor, breaking in two.

They used Mr Hamilton's raincoat to drag the larger chunk of the stone down and placed it in the boot of one car, and the smaller piece in the boot of another. 

When the missing stone was discovered the next morning it sparked one of the largest manhunts in British history. 

Checkpoints were set up at the border for the first time in centuries. 

The smart thinking students left the stone in England. One of the pieces was hidden in the Midlands, while the other was buried in a field in Kent. 

Two weeks later the two pieces were reunited in Scotland and a stonemason was employed to repair the break. 

The police soon caught up with the gang, after detectives went to Glasgow Mitchell Library and asked if anyone had shown a special interest in the Stone of Destiny.

“I'd researched the whole business there,” Mr Hamilton later admitted. “They checked the records and found I had borrowed every book on Westminster Abbey.”

The stone finally reappeared on April 11, 1951, when it was discovered on the altar of Arbroath Abbey, draped in a Saltire.

HeraldScotland:

Rumours have always persisted that the stone handed back was a copy. 

One persistent tale is that it was actually hidden in the Arlington pub in Glasgow’s west end where Mr Hamilton and his friends were regulars.

The Prime Minister at the time, Clement Attlee, was under pressure from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Westminster to bring Mr Hamilton and the three others, to trial for theft, criminal damage and sacrilege.

Government papers released in 2006 to the Sunday Times revealed that Sir Hartley Shawcross, the attorney-general famed for prosecuting Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, persuaded Mr Attlee that taking the four to court would be a bad idea. 

“I am satisfied that a prosecution would do no good except to the defendants, to whom it would give the opportunity of being regarded as martyrs if they were convicted, or heroes if they were acquitted,” he wrote on April 18, 1951 in a secret paper ahead of a cabinet meeting the next day.

“In Scotland a prosecution would produce a very adverse reaction.”

In 1996 the UK government returned the stone to Scotland. It currently sits in Edinburgh Castle with the Scottish Crown Jewels.

With the coronation of the new King likely to occur in the British spring or summer of next year, the stone faces another journey.

It will be taken south to Westminster Abbey, Edward’s ancient chair will be affixed to it and Charles, crowned.

Two years ago, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a plan to return the stone by 2024 to Perth, which was described as its “spiritual home”.

Mr Hamilton wrote a book about the plot, titled The Taking of the Stone of Destiny, which was turned into the 2008 movie Stone of Destiny, featuring Robert Carlyle, Charlie Cox and Kate Mara.

Mr Vernon died in 2004 and Ms Matheson in 2013, while Mr Stuart passed away aged 88 in 2019.