Kezia Dugdale: Public inquiry would be good for all our souls

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Time and time again, I’ve heard parents affected by the baby ashes scandal at Mortonhall say to me: “If we’d wanted our baby buried, we’d never have organised a cremation”. Such a simple and basic point and one which seems to have by-passed the authorities over not just years, but decades.

It’s always hard not to get too emotionally involved when a constituent tells you their story and the problems they face. Lives materially impaired, in some cases ruined, because somebody didn’t follow the right process. Or in some cases, applied it so rigidly it produced ridiculous consequences.

The Mortonhall scandal took that sense of anger and frustration to a new level.

Parents who’d lost a baby were told there were no ashes for their child, only to be told years later not only that ashes existed but that they had been
buried in a communal plot.

Who of sound mind could possibly have thought it was acceptable to deprive a grieving parent of their right to the ashes, denying they even existed?

One of my constituents has been laying flowers next to a plaque for her son in the Garden of Remembrance for years.

She goes to grieve for Fraser here because she’d been told there were no ashes. Now she knows there were ashes and they’ve been buried in the ground without her consent or knowledge.

The authorities can tell her where her son’s ashes are “roughly”. She’s spent years walking clean past that burial plot on her way to the plaque.

How do you cope with that anger? That sense of loss all over again? Where does she go to remember now?

Some people affected by the events at Mortonhall lost their babies 10, 15 even 25 years ago. Many have had to cope with the grief for a long time – but the revelations have brought back a pain that feels as fresh as if their baby had died yesterday. The world has stopped for them once again, and they can’t move on until the truth is out.

The investigation launched by Edinburgh City Council, led by the experienced and well respected Dame Elish Angiolini, is of course, very welcome, but we now know that what happened at Mortonhall has been happening right across Scotland. From Glasgow to Aberdeen through Fife. The Edinburgh investigation can’t help those families.

The Scottish Government has also announced a commission which will look at the public policy around baby death and cremation and seek to update law, which in some respects is more than 100 years old.

That, too, is welcome, but it won’t give parents the answers they need. Only an independent, public inquiry can do that. An inquiry, led by a judge with the power to call witnesses. Witnesses who have to give testimony and do so under oath.

The parents need answers in order to rebuild their lives and move forward. They want the truth. A sense of justice for their beautiful babies. Only a public inquiry can deliver that – nothing else will do.

•Kezia Dugdale is a Labour Party list MSP for the Lothians