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Mortonhall Scandal: Petition rolled out as families demand independent probe

Dorothy Maitland with her daughter Megan McKenzie

Dorothy Maitland with her daughter Megan McKenzie

MORE than 2000 people have signed a petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to hold an independent public inquiry into the Mortonhall Crematorium scandal.

Launched on Friday evening by a parent affected by the events at the Howdenhall Road facility, it has attracted 2077 signatures so far.

It calls on First Minister Alex Salmond and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, to instruct Holyrood to hold an inquiry into the practices at Mortonhall – removing the investigation from control of the crematorium’s owner, Edinburgh City Council.

The petition has the full backing of Sands Lothian, the bereavement charity which discovered that for decades babies’ remains had been buried in an unmarked grave while parents were told there were no remains.

Dorothy Maitland, operations manager with Sands Lothian, says people want an independent probe.

“We had a very emotional meeting with parents last week and it was made very clear that no-one wanted the council to be involved in the investigation into Mortonhall.

“It became obvious that what was needed is an independent public inquiry, so we can all discover just what went on there. So a petition to bring that about has been launched by one of the parents affected.

“It’s now on our Facebook page and it’s already had more than 2000 signatures in three days. We will also be producing paper versions in the new year.”

She added: “Kenny MacAskill, Justice Minister, was at our meeting, and we will be meeting him in January to see how we can progress this.”

The parent who started the petition, 46-year-old Willie Reid, from Bathgate, lost his daughter, Donna, because of medical complications after she was born. She was cremated at Mortonhall in 1988.

He said parents are unhappy with the council investigating itself. He said: “I was at the Sands open meeting last week and I just felt we were being told piecemeal information and that was all we were ever going to get, and I just don’t trust what the council have to say about this.

“I suggested a public inquiry and started the petition. It’s amazing that it’s received so many signatures already, but people feel so strongly.”

Mr Reid said that after the story was revealed by the Evening News, he had called the council’s helpline for parents affected and was told by the crematorium’s current manager that Donna “is one of the babies affected by this
scandal”.

He added: “I have so many questions now. I don’t know if her ashes were buried or not. I know I’d have loved to have them, but we were told by the undertakers and the crematorium that there were no ashes to collect.

“You think you have some sort of closure but all of this has brought back so much pain.

“I had never been involved with Sands before but I went to the meetings. I think an independent public inquiry needs to be set up by the Scottish Parliament, or by the justiciary, through a sheriff or judge.

“Mike Rosendale [head of schools and community services, who is leading the council investigation] has no legal powers in his role, he can’t make people answer questions they don’t want to. That’s why it needs to a public inquiry.”

The scandal came to light when Sands Lothian discovered parents had not been receiving ashes of babies. The council later admitted they had been buried at the site without parents’ knowledge.

Since the news first emerged, 175 different parents have contacted Sands Lothian looking for information about their babies’ ashes.

‘I WANT TO GET LAWYERS INVOLVED FOR GRIEF I’VE GONE THROUGH’

THE grieving mother of a newborn baby whose ashes were secretly buried at the scandal-hit Mortonhall Crematorium has blasted council bosses for not agreeing to an external inquiry.

Patricia Linton, 37, said she did not trust city leaders “one bit” after an emotionally charged public meeting at Craiglockhart Tennis Centre last week.

Ms Linton’s daughter, Shelley Louise, was cremated at Mortonhall 20 years ago after she died during a heart operation aged only three weeks.

The volunteer worker from Craigmillar said she was outraged at the council’s handling of the situation and that she was considering legal action.

“We need an independent inquiry,” she said. “All the council staff did at that meeting was apologise and say they understood what we were going through. How can they understand?

“I want to get the lawyers involved for the grief I’ve gone through over the last 20 years.”

She said memories of the loss of her daughter were still raw.

“I was only 17 when I had Shelley Louise,” she said. “She was nearly three-and-a-half months premature and lived for three weeks but she died during an operation on a small hole in one of the tubes leading into her heart.

“She was cremated at Mortonhall, and I went there afterwards to ask for the ashes.

“I was told that you don’t get ashes and that any you do get are scattered next to the big white cross in the grounds. Now I know different.”

“The council officials at that meeting were useless. I feel angry – there was no information given whatsoever.”

 

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