Probe into Mortonhall ashes to extend nationwide

THE investigation into the baby ashes scandal is to be extended nationwide after the Scottish Government pledged it would attempt to find answers for all the affected families.
Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh, ahead of the publication of the report. Picture: Greg MacveanMortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh, ahead of the publication of the report. Picture: Greg Macvean
Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh, ahead of the publication of the report. Picture: Greg Macvean

First Minister Alex Salmond and public health minister Michael Matheson vowed every case would receive the same level of attention as those at Mortonhall crematorium in Edinburgh.

But despite repeated calls for a public inquiry, Mr Matheson said no decision would be made until Lord Bonomy had finished work on his infant cremation commission, which is expected to report to ministers at the end of this month.

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The comments came as former crematorium manager George Bell blamed funeral directors and politicians for what took place. Mr Bell, who was bereavement and public health manager at Mortonhall, said many parents had been wrongly advised to choose cremation.

On Wednesday, former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini published a 600-page report, the culmination of an 11-month investigation into Mortonhall dating back to the 1960s. The investigation followed newspaper revelations in December 2012 that the cremation of infants produced remains which parents were not being told about.

The report found that systematic failings in the running of the crematorium led to parents being told there were no ashes left to scatter.

Dame Elish said there was “extensive” mixing of babies’ remains with those of adults, and it was likely ashes of babies had been “hoovered up” during cleaning of flues and ended up interred in a piece of land next to a skip.

She said hundreds of parents whose babies had been cremated at Mortonhall faced a “lifetime of uncertainty” over their children’s remains.

Concerns over the fate of baby ashes have been raised across Scotland and investigations are under way in Aberdeen, Fife and Glasgow.

In a statement to MSPs yesterday, Mr Matheson said all crematoria would be investigated in the same way Dame Elish had investigated Mortonhall.

“We must ensure that all affected parents receive the same level of investigation as happened for the 253 families affected at Mortonhall,” he said.

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“I know some parents have reiterated their call for a public inquiry. I would like to reassure these parents: I hear that call.

“We have never ruled out a public inquiry. We have always said we would reflect on that once we have received the reports from Dame Angiolini and Lord Bonomy. We will not hesitate to bring forward the necessary legislation and take the necessary steps once the commission has reported.”

The Crown Office confirmed yesterday it was carrying out further investigations into Mortonhall, alongside the police, after taking receipt of the report.

Edinburgh city council said a working group would be set up to consider the report’s recommendations. It was likely to include representatives from the council, the Scottish Government, NHS Lothian and the child bereavement charity Sands.

The First Minister told MSPs new legislation would be brought forward at the earliest opportunity to prevent the “terrible events” being repeated.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, he pledged the Scottish Government would implement all of Dame Elish’s recommendations and announced a further £100,000 of funding for counselling services to help the families affected.

“I know the thoughts of all of us are with the families affected, who have not only suffered the loss of a child but the additional trauma that the Mortonhall report highlights, and that experience for families has been going on for decades,” he said. “No-one should have to experience this pain and we are determined that no-one shall ever again.”

Former Mortonhall manager Mr Bell said the wrong advice had been given to parents. In a television interview, he said: “I feel for them and apologise if they have been given wrong advice which led them to choose cremation and not have the option of burial.

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“I understand exactly how they must be feeling at this time and I hope that at some point in the future they might get some closure.I tried my best to make sure that the message got out that there might not be the opportunity of recovering ashes after the cremation and we provided alternatives but unfortunately relied on front-line professionals. I must emphasise the crematorium staff didn’t make funeral arrangements.”

Mr Bell, who now runs a crematorium in the Borders, also blamed politicians for a failure to bring in legislation giving legal rights to non-viable foetuses.

Political opponents of the Scottish Government echoed calls from the families affected for an immediate public inquiry.