Mortonhall ashes: ‘Life of uncertainty’ for parents

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GRIEVING parents have demanded a full public inquiry into the Mortonhall scandal after a long-awaited report concluded they face “a lifetime of uncertainty” about their babies’ final resting place.

An 11-month investigation by former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini found systematic failings in the running of the Edinburgh crematorium, which led to parents being told there were no ashes to scatter.

Mortonhall 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

The report found evidence that not only had bones survived the cremation process, but that there had been “extensive” mixing of the remains of babies with that of adults.

It was also likely that the ashes of babies had been ­“hoovered up” during cleaning of the cremator and flues and later interred in a piece of land next to a skip.

Dame Elish said it was a “great tragedy” that many parents would be left with a “lifetime of uncertainty” over what happened to their child’s remains.

“The outcome of this investigation will cause more pain and distress for most of the parents of the 253 babies who are the subject of this investigation,” she said in the report.

“It cannot be said with any certainty what remains of which babies are interred in the garden of remembrance.

“The precise extent to which remains of babies have been mixed in with an adult cremation that followed the baby’s cremation is also unknown but appears likely to be extensive.”

Following publication of the 600-plus page report some of the affected families held a press conference in Edinburgh.

There was anger directed at the city council and the previous management of the crematorium and calls for a public inquiry.

Dorothy Maitland, whose baby daughter Kaelen was cremated at Mortonhall 25 years ago, uncovered the scandal.

She said: “I just feel total devastation today. My daughter could be in a garden of remembrance, next to a skip or in someone else’s relative’s urn.”

Willie Reid, chairman of the Mortonhall Ashes Action Committee, praised Dame Elish’s report, but said it had left many unanswered questions.

“This report is just bewildering. We still don’t have answers to what happened. The fight for a public inquiry must go on.”

Much of the anger was reserved for the crematorium’s former superintendent, Anne Grannum, who was criticised in the report.

Dame Elish said Mrs Grannum’s explanation to parents that ashes could not be guaranteed sat “uneasily” with her evidence to the investigation of a continued belief that bones or ashes could not be obtained.

Solicitor Patrick McGuire, ­representing some of the families, said there was now a need for a Scotland-wide inquiry into what happened to babies’ ashes in the past.

Since the Mortonhall scandal emerged, concerns have been raised about crematoriums in Aberdeen and Glasgow.

The report contains 22 recommendations which will now be taken forward by Edinburgh City Council and other relevant agencies.

Sue Bruce, the council’s chief executive, said: “On behalf of the council, I would like to offer my sincere apologies to the bereaved families for the distress they have suffered as a result of the practices at Mortonhall crematorium.

“It is also clear from the recommendations that there are far-reaching implications regarding cremation practices and the legislative framework not just for Edinburgh but across Scotland and the UK.

“We will now consult with families and relevant organisations regarding their views on a suitable memorial.

“We must ensure that nothing like this can happen again.”

Public health minister Michael Matheson said: “We are absolutely committed to changing the law and a wide-ranging bill is already planned.

“On that basis we established the independent Commission, chaired by Lord Bonomy, to examine current infant cremation policy, practice and legislation.”

Lord Bonomy is expected to deliver the commission’s national recommendations later this month.

Mr Matheson added: “The findings from Dame Elish’s report will be used to inform the wider national review.”

What parent doesn’t know the final resting place of their child?

Arlene MacDougall was among those desperately hoping Dame Elish Angiolini’s report would bring her answers and perhaps some closure.

In her case, questions remain about her son Fraser, who died in 1999.

She broke down yesterday at a press conference in Edinburgh as she recounted how her baby son had initially clung to life.

“[He was] the most perfect, beautiful boy with long fingernails and eyelashes – everything that was meant to be, but he was tiny.

“He breathed, he fought and he died in my arms five minutes after he was born, and in that five minutes I never expected to be sitting here 15 years later telling the world about what Mortonhall did to him.

“I wanted that baby. I loved that baby. I still love him and they did me wrong.

“The report is quite clear – it tells me that nobody knows what happened to him.”

Dorothy Maitland, operations manager at the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society (Sands) Lothian, lost her daughter, Kaelen.

“I feel very let down by the previous manager of Mortonhall,” she said. “He blatantly told me on many occasions over the years that you don’t get ashes from a baby.

“I really feel very, very let down by him, that he wasn’t telling the truth. I was up at Mortonhall on Saturday. I get no comfort from there at all. It has now become the most awful, awful place. Trying to grieve and not really knowing where your baby is – it’s disgusting. But we will fight on.”

Madeleine Cave also fought back tears as she spoke of her daughter Megan, who died in 1994 aged just 15 days old.

“I trusted them [Mortonhall] to look after her the way I had done. In reading the report, it’s clear there were remains for Megan. There seem to be a few options over what happened to the remains of my daughter.

“What parent doesn’t know the final resting place of their child? I don’t have any hope. I will never, ever know what happened to my baby’s ashes.

“I will never know her final resting place.”

Representing the families, solicitor Patrick McGuire said the report represented merely a “step on the way” to justice.

Recommendations: Damning verdict on Mortonhall’s failures

• That Edinburgh City Council reviews the manner in which the crematorium is managed and introduces robust systems to ensure best practice in providing service to next of kin.

• That senior management lead and support the crematorium in continuing a change of culture.

• That the council asks the Scottish Government to instruct comprehensive national research to ascertain the most effective, practical and safest practices for the future.

• That the cremation of non-viable foetuses should be regulated by legislation.

• That the Scottish Government should commission research to identify best practice in achieving remains in the cremation of foetuses, stillborn babies and neonatal babies.

• That unless a crematorium can demonstrate competence, it should not be permitted to continue the cremation of these babies and instead direct such cases to centres of excellence.

• That the council take[s] urgent steps to revise the application form for cremation to make it clear what the consequences of their baby’s cremation may imply.

• That the form is simplified and a bold explanation about the prospects of recovering ashes at Mortonhall printed on the front page of the form until equipment, training and working practices are improved.

• To make legislative provision for the cremation of non-viable foetuses.

• Immediate steps are taken to address the condition of the land next to the garden of remembrance and if it can be developed in to a dignified memorial.

• That the council petition the government to have the term “ashes” defined in legislation.

• The council should conduct an immediate review of the policies and practices affecting those cremated at Mortonhall.

• Grieving parents must be given the time and space to make their decision and mandatory training for midwives should be considered.

• That the location of the interment of the cremated remains of a baby should always be recorded with their medical records.


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