Babies cremations ‘abhorrent’, finds ashes scandal report

The report compared the running of Aberdeen Crematorium to Mortonhall. Picture: Greg Macvean
The report compared the running of Aberdeen Crematorium to Mortonhall. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Babies were cremated along with unrelated adults over many years in “unethical and abhorrent practices” at Aberdeen Crematorium, according to a report.

Dame Elish Angiolini looked at more than 200 infant cremation cases Scotland-wide following questions raised by the Mortonhall scandal in Edinburgh where it emerged the crematorium had secretly buried or scattered the ashes of babies for decades without the families’ knowledge.

Bereaved parents were told no ashes would be produced and other local authorities including Aberdeen City Council were subsequently implicated in similar practices.

Dame Elish, the former Lord Advocate, investigated concerns raised by families and found “deeply shocking” practices at Aberdeen Hazelhead Crematorium.

It was found in some cases that an infant coffin was placed at the side of or on top of an unrelated adult coffin and both cremated together.

Many staff had the “extraordinary belief” there would be no recovered ashes from babies up to the age of 18 months despite the fact they were recovered in other crematoriums and scientific 

It was said there were issues around the recovery process of ashes, the ability to recognise skeletal remains and “individual or corporate management decisions”.

The National Cremation Investigation report said: “Like Mortonhall, this was a section of the city council working in almost complete isolation without any strategic direction, development or quality control of the service, so far as it related to babies, infants and non-viable foetuses.

“There was little knowledge by senior management of the service provided to the families of these babies. There was insufficient interest taken or leadership shown by management.”

Last night John Finnie, MSP, justice spokesman called for Aberdeen City Council to apologise to the parents involved.

“A lack of respect for babies’ remains lies is at the heart of what has been exposed and merits an unreserved apology from Aberdeen City Council.”

Aileen Campbell, minister for public health acknowledged the “great courage and dignity” of the parents and said the Scottish Government would take forward any outstanding actions identified.

Aberdeen City Council Chief Executive Angela Scott issued a statement saying: “It cannot be overestimated how much anguish and hurt parents have experienced due to past practices at Aberdeen Crematorium and on behalf of Aberdeen City Council, I apologise unreservedly to those parents who did not receive their baby’s ashes, and to the relatives affected.

“The loss of a baby is devastating for parents and their families and we are deeply sorry for the extra distress our past actions have caused.

“I fully concur with Dame Elish’s view that some of past practices at Aberdeen Crematorium were abhorrent and unethical.

“We will work hard to ensure that this trust can be regained.

“It is of course right that a memorial for the families affected by the issues covered in this national investigation should be erected.

“We have been in contact with Sands, the national stillbirth and neonatal charity, and there will be a full consultation with families to agree on a fitting memorial.”