GRIEVING parents are not expected to get answers to the Mortonhall Crematorium ashes scandal for months, after an independent investigation was put on hold indefinitely at the request of police.
Senior QC Dame Elish Angiolini was publicly appointed in January to lead an investigation into the practice of burying the cremated ashes of new and stillborn babies without parents’ knowledge at the Edinburgh council-run facility for more than four decades.
But the Evening News can reveal today that the former Lord Advocate is still to start her inquiries almost two months on, with the external probe delayed until the police decide whether criminal proceedings are justified.
Police wrote at the end of last month to each of the 27 parents who have lodged criminal complaints over Mortonhall, advising them that more information would be provided in coming weeks.
A best-case scenario would involve a police determination being made by the end of this month, meaning the expected three-month long investigation by Dame Elish would not be finished until at least July.
Bereavement charity Sands Lothian, which first uncovered the scandal in December last year, said the ongoing delays were fuelling the anxieties of parents desperate for answers.
Sands operations manager Dorothy Maitland said: “Parents are getting very, very agitated at having to wait so long. They’re really getting quite nervous as well about what might come out from the audit.
“I think people are feeling ‘are we ever going to get answers to this?’ I know that one girl was told last week that there were no records for pre-24-week babies, so I think there’ll be a lot of parents expecting information that they’ve not been able to locate any records at all for.”
Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale, who has been pushing for a Scottish Parliament inquiry into Mortonhall, said: “Parents feel a frustration that this is going on and on and on, and for many of them it’s bringing back memories they had tried to put to bed.
“Some of them lost children ten or 15 years ago, but all this is bringing the pain back as fresh as if it was yesterday.
“What they want is justice, but nothing seems to be happening.”
Findings from an audit being carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers are still expected to be released at the end of this month. The firm has been drafted in by the council to search more than 100,000 records held by Mortonhall since the crematorium opened in 1967.
In a letter, Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said: “I understand that all those whose cases have been identified for investigation have already been contacted twice by the council. I also understand that further correspondence will be issued by the council once a procurator fiscal decision has been reached.”
Mortonhall Ashes Action Committee chairman Willie Reid said putting the independent investigation on hold seemed an “unnecessary delay”. But he said the group was not interested in a council-funded report no matter who was appointed to compile it, adding: “We only want a fully public inquiry”.
Cllr Lesley Hinds, Environment Convener, said: “The exact start date of Dame Elish Angiolini’s independent investigation has always been dependent on the police finishing their enquiries and a subsequent decision being made by the Procurator Fiscal and Crown Office as to any criminal proceedings. It is important that any evidence gathering by Dame Elish does not impede the police investigation.
“I want to reassure families that once Dame Elish starts it will be an extremely thorough, independent and objective investigation.”