PARENTS who mounted legal claims over the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal will receive compensation pay-outs of up to £4,000 each.
Negotiations between council chiefs and law firm Thompsons Solicitors, acting on behalf of 129 parents, have produced a proposed settlement which could cost Edinburgh council up to £600,000.
There were around 250 cases where parents of babies who were stillborn or died soon after birth were told there would be no ashes left following cremation, when in fact the infants’ remains were buried secretly in the grounds of the council-run Mortonhall crematorium.
Parents not included in the Thompson’s action can still decide to pursue a claim if they wish, but many have made it clear they have no interest in financial compensation.
Under the proposed deal, all parents covered by the settlement would receive at least £1,000, but those who can produce evidence of severe stress as a result of the scandal – requiring medical treatment or time off work – would qualify for £4,000.
The payments will be made ex-gratia and without admission of legal liability.
Dorothy Maitland, former operations director of bereavement charity Sands Lothian, who uncovered the scandal, said the issue for parents had never been about money. But she said: “I’ve got to thank Thompsons and the council for getting to this stage, because there will be closure.”
Willie Reid, chairman of the Mortonhall Ashes Action Committee, whose daughter Donna was cremated at Mortonhall in 1988, also stressed that no amount of cash would make up for the scandal.
He said: “Money is not going to change what happened to Donna or how her ashes were dealt with. But it will bring a closure to the legal side between parents and Edinburgh council.”
Council chief executive Dame Sue Bruce said the settlement would also cover payment of legal expenses.
She said: “We recognise that not all parents want to seek a settlement. Large numbers of parents are involved in this, all dealing with it in different ways.”
Councillors will be asked to approve the deal next week, which Dame Sue acknowledges in a report will give rise to expenditure for which the council has not budgeted, but adds: “The council’s head of finance has advised that it will be possible to identify funding”.
Patrick McGuire of Thompsons said the two years since the scandal broke had been extremely distressing for the families involved.
He said: “The Mortonhall families, through their tenacity and decency, have brought us to where we are today. In doing so they have ensured that in future no other families will have to suffer distress due to unacceptable practices at our crematoria.”
Ms Maitland, who lost a daughter 26 years ago, said: “I’m very happy that Thompsons and the council have agreed all the cases will receive some kind of compensation.
“I would have hated it to have gone to a situation where they were saying, ‘That baby was more viable’, or ‘That baby was stillborn’.
“Every single one of these babies mattered and the council has recognised that.”
Families to vote on Mortonhall garden ideas
DESIGN options have been unveiled for a memorial garden to be created at Edinburgh’s Mortonhall Crematorium, dedicated to the babies whose ashes were buried or scattered in the grounds without their parents’ knowledge.
The affected families, who have been closely involved in drawing up ideas for a fitting memorial, will be asked to vote on their preferred design.
A second memorial is proposed at another location in the city still to be identified.
Four options are being canvassed for Mortonhall, including one where the main focal point would be a simple, serpentine-shaped shelter and bench.
Another design involves a circular garden, complete with a stone wall and linear beech hedge leading to a circular water garden. Other options include a “Mandela” symbol of a circle with other circles contained within it and a fan-shape design echoing the existing contours in the landscape of Mortonhall.
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