Judge ‘misled’ by staff over baby ashes procedures

Aberdeen City Council previously refused to publish a heavily redacted version of a report into the baby ashes scandal at Hazlehead Crematorium. Picture: ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
Aberdeen City Council previously refused to publish a heavily redacted version of a report into the baby ashes scandal at Hazlehead Crematorium. Picture: ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
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Staff at a Scottish crematorium where the bodies of babies were burned alongside unrelated adults misled a senior judge investigating its “abhorrent” procedures, according to an internal report.

The claim is contained in a heavily redacted version of a report into the baby ashes scandal at Hazlehead Crematorium in Aberdeen, which the city’s council has previously refused to publish.

It says that former senior judge Lord Bonomy, whose Infant Cremation Commission made 64 recommendations when it reported in 2014, was misled by staff when he visited Hazlehead.

A separate investigation by Dame Elish Angiolini, which issued its findings two years later, revealed that “unethical and abhorrent practices” had gone on at the crematorium for “many years”. The ashes of babies and unrelated adults were often mixed together and given back to the adult’s relatives, while the parents of infants were told that none had been recovered, it said. At the time, lawyers representing the families involved in the inquiry said the malpractice detailed in Dame Elish’s report would fill people with “revulsion”.

Concern about practices at Hazlehead followed similar revelations about Mortonhall crematorium in Edinburgh, which had been burying baby ashes in secret for decades,as revealed by the Edinburgh Evening News five years ago.

Aberdeen City Council was ordered to release the previously secret 76-page report by the Scottish Information Commissioner after a formal request from BBC.

Carried out by independent investigator Richard Penn, it said it was “clear that Lord Bonomy had been misled by those Aberdeen City Council staff who met with him and his team during the Infant Cremation Commission’s visit to Aberdeen Crematorium”.

Much of the report was redacted, which the council said was mainly to protect the personal data of some employees. Paul Wells, who lost his son Scott to cot death and did not receive any ashes, said: “It’s devastating to keep going through it all. There is still so much blacked out, it still leaves so many questions unanswered. I don’t think we’ll ever really get closure.”

Ross Thomson, Conservative MP for Aberdeen South, said the report’s allegations were “very 
concerning” and questioned why the crematorium’s apparently misleading behaviour had not been challenged internally.