DCSIMG

Police asked to investigate Mortonhall ashes scandal after criminal complaint

Police have been asked to investigate the Mortonhall scandal. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Police have been asked to investigate the Mortonhall scandal. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

  • by DAVID O’LEARY
 

POLICE have been asked to investigate the Mortonhall ashes scandal after a grieving parent lodged a criminal complaint.

It is now thought others may take the lead after Toni Franchitti asked police to bring criminal charges against former employees at the crematorium.

Lothian and Borders Police confirmed today a single complaint had been received and said they were assessing it to see if a criminal investigation was warranted.

Meanwhile, it emerged that the disposal of ashes from crematoria across Scotland was a “postcode lottery”, with some units disposing of babies’ ashes without telling parents and others offering to return remains to them.

Today, Patrick McGuire, left, of Thompsons Solicitors, who is acting on behalf of a number of parents, said he believed it was only a matter of time before “a slew” of criminal complaints were received by officers.

Parent Toni Franchitti, 53, from Gifford, is the first to break ranks in seeking criminal charges. His son, John Paul, was born within the former Elsie Inglis Maternity Unit at Abbeyhill on August 16, 1978, but he died within three hours. Toni, who is a first cousin of US motor racing star Dario Franchitti, and his then wife, Lynn, were both 18 years old at the time and were told by hospital authorities that they would ensure their son received “a Christian burial”.

He said: “We left the hospital and just took for granted that they would contact us but then we heard nothing.

“We spent 18 months trying to find out whether he was buried or cremated and where his remains are but they just completely stonewalled us. I’m fully convinced that he ended up at Mortonhall. If they had buried him somewhere then why wouldn’t they just tell us?

“It was when the Mortonhall scandal broke that the penny dropped and I realised that is what they would have done with him.”

Mr Franchitti, who was diagnosed with terminal motor neurone disease in September 2011, now wishes to get answers and justice for his son before he dies.

He has since contacted charity Sands Lothian, which broke the scandal, and the police.

A police spokesman said: “Lothian and Borders Police has received a complaint in relation to Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh. The complaint will be thoroughly assessed in order to determine whether any further police action is appropriate.”

Parents involved in the scandal heard from solicitor Patrick McGuire at a packed public meeting on Wednesday how a criminal investigation is warranted in this case.

Many were wary of approaching police as they were under the impression that this would then preclude them from any eventual public inquiry.

However, Mr McGuire said: “This is not the case. Lodging a criminal complaint with police and therefore being part of an ongoing investigation will not rule parents out of taking part in any eventual public inquiry. Looking at the Cremation Act 1935 it is clear in its wording that breaches of the law have taken place at Mortonhall.”

He has advised clients to go to the police and lodge similar complaints.

WHISTLEBLOWER HOTLINE URGED

Mortonhall campaigners have called for an independent whistleblowing hotline to be set up.

They want to give council workers an opportunity to reveal any information they may have about the ashes scandal.

A petition has been lodged with the city council by a resident who asked not to be named, urging it to open the line.

Local MP Ian Murray said: “I support moves to give workers more of an opportunity to whistleblow, particularly in relation to Mortonhall.

For the petition to appear before the next sitting of the council petitions committee on January 22, it must first collect 500 signatories.

‘POSTCODE LOTTERY’

GRIEVING parents face a postcode lottery over whether they receive their babies’ ashes.

Councils across Scotland take different approaches when bereaved parents of deceased newborns seek their babies’ remains.

Aberdeen and Fife councils are among those who routinely do not return ashes, saying it is often not possible as there is nothing or not enough left after cremation.

Argyll and Bute Council said in a statement: “If an infant is cremated, there are often no ashes or a very small amount, depending on age and circumstances. We take steps to ensure that funeral directors are made aware of this at the time of booking, and can explain this sensitively to parents. Families are given the option of taking remains away themselves in a baby urn, or having them scattered in the Garden of Remembrance.” Argyll and Bute Council has one crematorium at Cardross.

Glasgow City Council said it was often not possible to collect ashes.

Others, such as South Ayrshire, West Dunbartonshire, Falkirk and Perth and Kinross, say they are able to provide ashes.

Highland Council gives families the option of having the ashes returned or scattered by staff.

 
 
 

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