Lockerbie disaster cop to be crematoria inspector

Robert Swanson is Scotlands first Inspector of Crematoria. Picture: Andrew O'BrienRobert Swanson is Scotlands first Inspector of Crematoria. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Robert Swanson is Scotlands first Inspector of Crematoria. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
A FORMER city policeman who worked on the Lockerbie disaster and headed the British response to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami was today named as Scotland’s first inspector of crematoria in the wake of the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal.

Robert Swanson’s role will include making an inspection visit to each of Scotland’s 27 crematoria at least once a year and responding to complaints or queries from the public about cremations.

He said he was privileged to be appointed to the post, though saddened by the circumstances which led to it being created.

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The new post was one of the key recommendations following the inquiry into infant cremation led by Lord Bonomy.

The Evening News revealed in December 2012 how parents had been told for decades that no ashes were recovered from their children’s cremations, while in fact staff had been burying them in unmarked ground at Mortonhall.

The scandal led to new legislation on the cremation of stillborn babies and infants who die just days after birth. Staff training has also been improved and record-keeping made more robust.

Mr Swanson is tasked with ensuring cremation authorities adhere to legislation and best practice and maintain registers and other documents properly.

He will also give direction to crematoria managers and staff to ensure they are operating in line with the recommendations of the Bonomy commission.

He said his 41-year career in the police stood him in good stead for some of the tasks ahead.

He helped organise the recovery of bodies after the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 and he was the senior investigating officer for UK police in response to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand, arranging post-mortems and the repatriation of bodies.

He said: “I’ve had a lot of involvement with bereavement over the years and first-hand knowledge of how it can affect people.

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“I would see my role as partly a continuation of what I have done before and that will be a help.”

Mr Swanson, who still lives in Edinburgh, said he expected to be visiting at least one or two crematoria on inspections in the near future to get an early idea of working practices.

When the job advert for the new post appeared last year, some Mortonhall families expressed surprise it was part-time – only 90-120 days a year – and carried a daily fee of just £90.

Mr Swanson said: “Because it is a new role, no-one can say what lies ahead and how long things will take.

“Mathematically, we know if we are going to 27 crematoria twice a year that’s going to take at least 54 days. My terms and conditions are flexible and will be reviewed. After a year we will look at the number of days expected. It’s an open book at the moment and we will see how it goes.”

Minister for Public Health, Maureen Watt, said improved scrutiny of the practices of crematoria across Scotland would help ensure the events that arose at Mortonhall could never happen again.

Long career

ROBERT Swanson joined the police in 1972, moving to Special Branch in 1990 and in 2001 became Detective Superintendent for major crime and deputy head of CID. In 2004 he won the Queen’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service. On retiring from Lothian and Borders Police in 2006, he became Serious Crime Review Manager for the force.