Mortonhall baby ashes inquiry calls ‘unanswerable’

THE case for a public inquiry into the baby ashes scandal is “utterly unanswerable”, according to campaigners.
Mortonhall: Public inquiry case 'unanswerable'. Picture: TSPLMortonhall: Public inquiry case 'unanswerable'. Picture: TSPL
Mortonhall: Public inquiry case 'unanswerable'. Picture: TSPL

• Campaigners calling for public inquiry into Mortonhall ashes scandal says case is ‘unanswerable’

• Group representing families told MSPs publi inquiry only way to give answers

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The case for a public inquiry into the baby ashes scandal is “utterly unanswerable”, according to campaigners.

A group representing the families affected met with politicians at Holyrood today, saying it was the only way to give grieving parents the answers they need.

It emerged in December that Mortonhall crematorium in Edinburgh secretly buried the ashes of babies for decades without the knowledge of the families. Since then, other local authorities have been implicated.

Earlier this month Aberdeen City Council said it was carrying out an audit after freedom of information figures given to the BBC showed 24 babies have been cremated at Aberdeen crematorium in the last five years but that on no occasions were the ashes given to the families.

Glasgow City Council apologised to one family and joined calls for an independent investigation into the practices of publicly-owned crematoria to be held.

Public health minister Michael Matheson announced last week that an independent commission was being established to examine the policies in place for handling ashes and cremated remains, which will then lead to legislation.

Another investigation has been set up, led by former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, into practices at Mortonhall.

While the group welcomed the announcement of the independent commission, campaigners made an emotional plea to MSPs today for a full public inquiry which they hope can bring them the “absolute truth”.

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During the meeting, chaired by Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, bereaved parents took the opportunity to tell of their personal experiences.

Dorothy Maitland, operations manager for Sands (the Stillbirth And Neonatal Death Society), had her daughter Kaelen cremated at Mortonhall in 1986, and was told there would be no ashes to scatter.

She said: “It’s important to parents that they get the truth and we feel this is the only way we are going to get the absolute truth.

“We are proud of our babies, we are mothers and fathers and we are fighting for the rights of our babies and, yes, it is emotional, but it’s vital that people get to know how important these babies are to us.”

She added: “For me, if someone could turn round and tell me why they told parents that you do not get ashes when they clearly knew you do get ashes, I just want an explanation as to why they did that.”

Patrick McGuire, of Thompsons solicitors, representing a number of the families, said: “Public inquiries are underpinned by an Act of Parliament and that is a way to ensure that families affected by this tragedy will have a role within the inquiry, a very pro-active role where they will be entitled to be legally represented and entitled to influence the process and to ask questions.

“There’s an absolute gulf between that and what’s going on at present.

“In my opinion, the case for a public inquiry is utterly unanswerable and if one is not announced then there can only be a backlash among not only the families affected by this but the whole of Scotland, because I have never seen a group of people with a wider support among all communities.”

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Willie Reid, chair of the Mortonhall Ashes Action Committee, said the purpose of today’s meeting was to give MSPs the story from the perspective of the parents.

He said: “It’s affected parents giving their personal stories to the people who ultimately make the decisions in our country.

“We need a public inquiry, it’s the only way that the truth of what’s happened and why it has happened and to prevent it from happening again can come about.”

Lothians MSP Ms Dugdale said after the meeting: “All the commission will do is to look to reform the law around cremation, that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t give these families any sense of justice.

“That won’t tell them where their babies’ ashes are or why what happened did happen. The only thing that can do that is a public inquiry, so the fight for that continues. Nothing less will do.”