Doubt over up to 40 babies’ ashes in Aberdeen

Aberdeen City Council: looking to formalise its policy on cremation. Picture: AFP
Aberdeen City Council: looking to formalise its policy on cremation. Picture: AFP
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THE ashes of as many as 40 
babies and infants may have been scattered at Aberdeen’s crematorium without the knowledge or permission of the bereaved parents, it was revealed yesterday.

An external audit ordered by the city council has disclosed that the authority no longer has any records about the disposal of remains scattered at the crematorium’s Garden of Remembrance between 1984 and 1985.

Auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said they have been unable to verify whether the ashes were dispersed at the request and “with the full support” of the bereaved families without the records.

The mystery surrounding the remains emerged yesterday as Aberdeen City Council announced plans to formalise its policy for the cremation of babies and young children for the first time following the publication of an external investigation by PwC into the authority’s current procedures.

The city council ordered the investigation after it was 
revealed that 24 babies had been cremated at the city’s Hazlehead Crematorium in the past 
five years, but that on no occasions were the ashes given to the families.

City council leader Barney Crockett said the report by PwC had shown that the authority’s cremation procedures were “sound”.

But he said the council would now begin the process of producing a formal statement on the cremation process which will be provided to bereaved parents or guardians by funeral directors or the local health authority.

Mr Crockett said: “I hope families will take some comfort from knowing we have had a close look at our own procedures at Hazlehead Crematorium and found them to be sound.

“We remain fully confident that our crematorium staff at Hazlehead have carried out their duties with the utmost of professionalism and have always approached their very sensitive work in a caring and considerate manner.”

The PwC audit initially reviewed 49 cremations of children aged five years or less, including stillbirths, between 1 April, 2007 and 31 December, 2012. In the cremations involving infants of less than two years of age it was recorded that no ashes remained.

In the cases where the child was aged two or older, ashes were recorded as being in existence within the Burial and Cremation Administration System. There were no occasions on which ashes existed but were not returned.

The audit also looked at cremations of children up to the age of five, including stillbirths, recorded in the crematorium records for 1984 and 1985 when different gas cremators were in use.

During that period there were a total of 62 cremations of children aged five or younger including stillbirths. In 40 instances the crematorium records said remains were dispersed in the Garden of Remembrance; 17 were taken away by representatives for burial, and in five instances remains were taken away by representatives for scattering.

The report states: “In each instance the records show ashes were created. However, as cremation application forms are only retained for 15 years we were unable to verify whether the ashes dispersed in the Garden of Remembrance was undertaken at the request and with the full support of the bereaved family.”

Patrick McGuire of Thompsons Solicitors, who is representing a number of families affected, said “The audit brings us no further to the truth and in fact throws up more questions than it actually answers. It is woefully inadequate and is an insult to the parents affected.”