Minister hints at public inquiry into Mortonhall crematorium scandal

Bereaved parent Lindsay Robb at a public meeting
Bereaved parent Lindsay Robb at a public meeting
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JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill today sent the strongest signal yet that he believes a public inquiry may be necessary into the scandal over babies’ ashes at Mortonhall crematorium.

The Edinburgh Eastern SNP MSP is to meet relatives affected by the revelations that the council-run crematorium had been burying the remains of new and stillborn infants in cardboard boxes without telling the parents.

Kenny MacAskill

Kenny MacAskill

A petition calling for a public inquiry into the scandal has attracted more than 3000 signatures.

And a second public meeting for grieving parents, organised by bereavement charity Sands Lothian, will take place tomorrow night.

Just last month, Mr MacAskill described calls for a public inquiry as “premature”.

But today he said: “A public inquiry may be appropriate but would be later and for others to decide.”

The council is already conducting its own inquiry, led by head of schools and community services Mike Rosendale, which is due to publish a report within a week, but parents believe there should be an independent investigation. Sands Lothian operations manager Dorothy Maitland claimed last week the council increasingly appeared to be “closing ranks”.

She said tomorrow night’s meeting had been called so parents could discuss how to guarantee a public inquiry by an external watchdog.

Council representatives will not be invited to the meeting, which will be held at the Craiglockhart Tennis Centre at 7.30pm.

Mr Rosendale’s report is expected to be published in full on the council’s website in the days leading up to the transport and environment committee meeting next Tuesday.

The Evening News revealed last month that crematorium staff had failed to tell parents their children’s ashes were being buried in cardboard boxes at the Howdenhall Road site. Many parents were told there were no ashes.

Mr Rosendale has previously pledged to speak with both existing and past staff members at Mortonhall as part of his inquiry. He also promised to check whether the facility had met standards demanded of UK crematoria.

But parents have argued he has no legal powers and so cannot make people answer questions they don’t want to. They claim that’s why a public inquiry is required.

At a public meeting held at the Craiglockhart Tennis Centre three weeks ago, angry parents confronted Mr Rosendale over the scandal and demanded an external investigation, likening the situation to police forces being investigated by senior officers from another force.

But Mr Rosendale told the meeting he had “no intention of hiding anything”.

And the council’s environmental health services manager, Dr Andrew Mackie ,said carrying out an internal inquiry did not rule out any further inquiry, should either questions not be answered, or should the internal inquiry establish there were further concerns that needed to be investigated.

The practice of burying ashes of new and stillborn babies at Mortonhall without informing parents dates back more than four decades.

Parents described their shock when the scandal was first revealed. Official figures show parents of 150 babies have contacted the council directly through an online facility set up to deal with inquiries following the revelations.