Baby ashes scandal report recommends law change

Mortonhall Crematorium. File picture: Neil Hanna
Mortonhall Crematorium. File picture: Neil Hanna
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A NEW report into the baby ashes scandal has recommended a law to prevent the mixing of infant remains with those of another person.

The recommendation comes after Dame Elish Angiolini looked at more than 200 infant cremation cases Scotland-wide following questions raised by the Mortonhall scandal.

She found babies were cremated along with unrelated adults over many years in “unethical and abhorrent practices” at Aberdeen Crematorium.

It was found in some cases that an infant coffin was placed at the side of or on top of an unrelated adult coffin and both cremated together.

Many staff had the “extraordinary belief” there would be no recovered ashes from babies up to the age of 18 months despite the fact they were recovered in other crematoriums and scientific evidence.

It was said there were issues around the recovery process of ashes, the ability to recognise skeletal remains and “individual or corporate management decisions”.

The National Cremation Investigation report said: “Like Mortonhall, this was a section of the city council working in almost complete isolation without any strategic direction, development or quality control of the service, so far as it related to babies, infants and non-viable foetuses.

“There was little knowledge by senior management of the service provided to the families of these babies.

“There was insufficient interest taken or leadership shown by management.”

Andrew Kerr, chief executive, City of Edinburgh Council, said “lessons had been learnt”.

“As a result of the report we commissioned from Dame Elish Angiolini, a Mortonhall multi-agency working group was set up in 2014, which included affected parents, to ensure nothing like this can happen again. Lessons have been learnt and a robust action plan produced which has now been implemented and practices changed.

“We have put in place all the recommendations from Dame Elish and the Scottish Government to ensure the highest possible standards are adhered to at Mortonhall.

“As part of this ongoing commitment we are investing an additional £2m at the crematorium on improvements to the building and customer facilities, and will carry on our work with affected parents and the bereaved to ensure continued service improvements.”

The investigation found that communication between bereaved parents, NHS staff, crematoria staff and funeral directors was often “muddled” and led to general misunderstandings about the production of ashes.

The investigation looked at 14 crematoriums, praising some such as Cardross for “the care applied” in retrieving baby ashes. In total, 15 recommendations were made.