Mortonhall ashes report makes 64 recommendations

More than 60 recommendations to help “avoid repetition of past failures” have been made by a long-awaited report into the handling of baby ashes in Scotland.

The independent Infant Cremation Commission, chaired by former High Court judge Lord Bonomy, was set up more than a year ago to look at the practice of infant cremation in Scotland and how ashes are disposed of.

It came in the wake of revelations that Edinburgh’s Mortonhall Crematorium had secretly buried the ashes of babies for decades without the knowledge of their families.

Other local authorities have subsequently been implicated.

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While it was not part of the commission’s remit to investigate individual cases, it was tasked with identifying where problems lie and to come up with arrangements for cremation which address the issues.

The lengthy report has now produced 64 recommendations aimed at improving policy and practice across Scotland.

Two “important” legislative changes proposed are a statutory definition of “ashes” and statutory regulation of the cremation of babies of less than 24 weeks gestation.

The report’s authors said uncertainty about the disposal of ashes in some cases has compounded the distress for the parents involved.

It is therefore important to take urgent steps to make sure future infant cremations are handled sensitively, they said.

The report stated: “Death always evokes grief. To some it brings release and, to their families, relief from the distress of observing a loved one in decline and pain.

“For others, the grief and distress of suffering untimely bereavement can seem unbearable. That is particularly so for many who suffer the loss of a longed-for and much-loved baby at or before birth or in the early months of life.

“To learn later of uncertainty about the existence and disposal of their babies’ ashes has compounded the grief, caused further distress to many, and given rise to mixed emotions in others.

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“That highlights the importance of taking steps urgently to ensure that future cremations of babies are handled with sensitivity that has due regard to the duty to lay their remains to rest as and where their families wish.”

In April, a report by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini into historic practices at Mortonhall concluded that hundreds of bereaved parents face a lifetime of uncertainty over what happened to their child’s remains.

Last week, Aberdeen City Council said it was investigating claims that babies were cremated alongside adults at its Hazlehead Crematorium.