Nicola Sturgeon in cremation inquiry call
• Deputy First Minister calls for inquiry into how ashes of cremated babies are disposed of
• Nicola Sturgeon calls come as Mortonhall scandal spreads to Glasgow
• Glasgow council apologise after revelations that ashes of stillborn daughter were scattered without family’s knowledge
Police across the country have received 30 complaints relating to claims that the ashes of cremated babies were disposed of without parents’ knowledge.
Some of the biggest councils have been implicated in the scandal in the wake of disclosures about Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh, where it emerged in December that babies’ ashes were secretly buried for decades without the knowledge of their families.
Last week Aberdeen City Council said it was carrying out an audit after freedom of information figures given to the BBC showed 24 babies have been cremated at Aberdeen Crematorium in the last five years but that on no occasions were the ashes given to the families.
Glasgow City Council apologised to one family yesterday and joined calls from some MSPs and campaigners for an independent investigation into the practices of publicly-owned crematoria to be held.
In January, former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini was appointed to lead an investigation into practices at Mortonhall but many believe the breadth of the scandal requires a wider investigation.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is absolutely crucial that families in these traumatic circumstances are treated with sensitivity and are given the support they need.
“The Scottish Government expects best practice to be followed for cremations in line with industry guidance on all occasions.
“We believe Edinburgh City Council did the right thing in asking Dame Elish Angiolini to lead an investigation into the Mortonhall circumstances. It is up to other councils to consider their individual circumstances before deciding whether a similar course of action may be advisable.
“Going forward, the Scottish Government has already been clear that we will be looking to update legislation on burials and cremations. We will continue to monitor the position and all the evidence available, including the police investigation currently under way in Edinburgh.”
Glasgow City Council said it has received 19 inquiries about 15 cremations in which babies’ ashes were not returned to their families.
In nine cases, there were no remains to recover, and in the other six the local authority said it was instructed “in good faith” to disperse the ashes in a garden of remembrance by either the child’s parents or the funeral directors.
The family inquiries relate to both of the city’s council-run crematoria: Linn, near Clarkston, and Daldowie, near Uddingston.
A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said the force had have received 30 complaints from across the country, from parents who say they were not consulted before their child’s ashes were scattered.
Only two of the 30 complaints do not relate to Edinburgh, with one complaint made in Glasgow and another from a family in Lanarkshire.
Nicola Sturgeon, MSP for Glasgow Southside, said she wants answers for the O’Rourke family, her constituents, who recently discovered that the remains of their stillborn daughter Maeve were dispersed without their knowledge.
Cairsty O’Rourke told a BBC investigation she was never offered Maeve’s ashes after she was cremated at Linn Crematorium in 2009. Ms O’Rourke later found out they were scattered by “some stranger”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “My constituents’ dreadful ordeal in losing a child has been compounded by the discovery that their daughter’s ashes, ashes that they had been told would not exist, had been dispersed without their knowledge or consent.
“I believe that my constituents deserve answers to the legitimate questions that they have, questions relating to the practice of telling bereaved parents that there would be no ashes following cremation, even when it is now clear that this was not always the case; the procedures that were, or were not, in place to ensure that parents were given accurate information and that their wishes were ascertained and respected; and the paperwork used to record parents’ wishes.”
Glasgow City Council said a review of its practices as suggested by Ms Sturgeon may not provide reassurances to parents as it cannot compel funeral directors or the NHS to take part.
Instead, the council joined the calls for the Government to hold a nationwide inquiry into the issue.
A spokesman said: “We will therefore be writing to the Scottish Government asking them to consider launching a nationwide inquiry into the policies and practices of all crematoria in Scotland, public and private, as well as the policies and practice of funeral directors and the NHS.
“We hope such an inquiry will give answers to parents who are rightly angry to discover that something they believed for years was not true, but just as importantly lead to national guidance which will be followed by all crematoria in Scotland and by all funeral directors and NHS staff who deal with bereaved parents.”
The baby ashes scandal first came to light at the end of 2012 after it emerged that cremated remains of babies were buried in a mass unmarked grave at an Edinburgh crematorium – the scandal has now spread to include two other Scottish cities.
It is thought there could be hundreds of cases. The practice ended in 2011 but is believed to have been happening for about 45 years at Edinburgh’s council-run crematorium.
It emerged last week that Hazlehead Crematorium in Aberdeen had failed to produce ashes of any of the 24 babies aged up to six months old who were cremated.