CREMATION records from the last 40 years are to be independently audited at a potential cost of more than £100,000 in an attempt to uncover the full truth of the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal.
A team of auditors from the world’s largest professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), has been drafted in by Edinburgh City Council to search more than 100,000 records held by the local authority’s crematorium since it opened in 1967.
It is likely to take two months for their investigation to be complete.
The cremation logs have been removed from the Howdenhall Road institution and taken to the council’s headquarters at Waverley Court while they are audited to discover how many stillborn babies, or those who died within days of being born, were cremated and what happened to their ashes. For decades, parents were told by Mortonhall staff that there were no ashes to scatter or keep from the cremations of babies, yet the Evening News revealed last month that remains from deceased babies were in fact put in cardboard boxes and buried on site without their parents’ knowledge.
Today, Dorothy Maitland, operations manager at Sands Lothians, the charity which uncovered the scandal, said: “I think it was necessary that PwC or similar were appointed as there needs to be some independent scrutiny at what went on at Mortonhall. It was very obvious from our last public meeting that is what parents wanted. There was a lot of anger felt towards the council, and so parents felt it could not be trusted with carrying out an inquiry as it might put council interests before theirs.
“As far as I know, the auditors will be looking at all the crematorium’s records to try and marry up what happened to which child. It will take some time but hopefully at the end some parents’ questions will be answered.”
The auditing process by PwC is expected to take two months and will not form any part of the interim report on the scandal which will be debated by the council’s transport and environment committee on January 15.
It is believed that the remains of hundreds of babies could be affected by the scandal, and 150 calls have been made to the council’s Mortonhall hotline since December 5.
The council refused to comment on the cost of hiring PwC to carry out the audit, but Councillor Lesley Hinds, below, the environment convener, said she believed it was the right move.
“A key issue being raised by parents is the need for an independent role in the investigation, so a completely separate audit of the crematorium records is now being carried out,” she said.
“There are over 100,000 documents relating to cremations and the audit will have a particular focus on those involving babies. This is intended to provide us with comprehensive information from which we will endeavour to deal with the questions and concerns of families.
“The current state of the council investigation into the historic and current practices at Mortonhall will be discussed at the transport and environment committee next week. The report will address key areas of concern and set out what lessons can be learnt.
“We will carry on working closely with Sands and will continue discussions over some form of permanent memorial.”
Ms Maitland said: “We’ve been told by Mr Rosendale [Mike, head of schools and community services, who is leading the council inquiry] that he will meet us to let us know his recommendations in his report before it goes to the council so we’re fully informed.”
One recommendation could be the establishment of a steering group looking at best practice in crematoria including Sands, the council and professional organisations. Another possibility is to give funding to Sands to help it cope with increased demand as it has been inundated with calls from worried parents since the scandal was revealed.
Ms Maitland, who discovered that the ashes of her daughter, Kaelen, who died at nine days old in 1986, had been buried in the grounds without her knowledge, said: “I do feel quite confident for the future that things will be changed for the better and that communication will improve between hospitals, crematoria and funeral directors.
“I think the idea of a committee of all the people involved and affected by the death of babies and cremation is a good step. Of course, we would welcome any funding to help us deal with the extra calls and support being asked for by parents at this time.”
Sands Lothians will tonight hold another open meeting for parents to discuss the next stage in the process of petitioning the Scottish Government for an independent inquiry.
A senior accountant said PwC could charge approximately £112,000 for such a contract. “We’d charge around £700 per person a day for this kind of work. It sounds like a job for a four-man team, at the very least. Over two months, or 40 days, you’d be looking at £112,000.”
PETITION SIGNATURES SOUGHT
PAPER petitions will be distributed from tonight for the first time as Sands Lothian seeks to rally extra support for an independent inquiry into the Mortonhall scandal.
An online petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to launch a public investigation into the matter had reached 3180 signatures late last night.
The number of new signatories has stalled since Christmas.
Sands is hopeful that paper copies of the petition given to families attending a second public meeting on Mortonhall tonight will help in regathering momentum.
The charity is targeting 10,000 signatures to help attract political backing.
THE TRAGIC STORY SO FAR
SHOCKING revelations that Mortonhall Crematorium had buried the cremated remains of new and stillborn infants in a mass grave without telling grieving parents were first uncovered by the Evening News last month.
Bereavement charity Sands Lothian brought to light the practice – which may have stretched back more than four decades – in which the council-run facility had been burying the ashes of babies in cardboard boxes on site.
In the ensuing days, parents voiced their fears that the ashes of stillborn babies may have been just “swept up and put in the bin” and their cremations not even recorded.
City environment leader Councillor Lesley Hinds said individual ashes would likely never be identified as the council set up a hotline for parents and launched its own investigation into the scandal.
Experts who maintained furnaces at Mortonhall insisted there “should always be ashes” left over from baby cremations despite contradictory claims.
Legal firm Thompsons Solicitors was inundated with inquiries from affected families and warned that a joint compensation claim was inevitable.
A memorial tree was proposed as one way of marking the tragic site as parents collectively rounded on council chiefs, including investigation leader Mike Rosendale, at a public meeting.
A petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to hold a public inquiry was started and has since attracted more than 3000 signatures.
A second public meeting will be held tonight, just days before the council is due to release its own report on January 15.
FORMER MANAGERS ‘REFUSE TO MEET INQUIRY CHIEF’
NEWS of the independent scrutiny comes as it’s also alleged two of the former managers of Mortonhall have refused to meet with Mike Rosendale, who is leading the inquiry into working practices at the crematorium.
Former head of bereavement services George Bell is understood to have submitted a written statement to Mr Rosendale, but nothing has been received from previous superintendent Ann Grannum.
Dorothy Maitland said: “I’ve been led to believe George Bell and Ann Grannum have not spoken to Mr Rosendale. Of course, he cannot make them as they no longer work at Mortonhall, so unless there’s a full public inquiry there might still be gaps in our knowledge.”
The council refused to comment.