Mortonhall Scandal: Final insult as council staff mark graves of dead children with spray paint

One of the dates spray-painted on the grass
One of the dates spray-painted on the grass
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A secret mass grave that contains the ashes of dead children over decades has been marked out on grass by council staff - using spray-paint.

The News has learned that employees attempting to identify where ashes have been interred at Mortonhall Crematorium have scrawled dates on a grass border with luminous paint, identifying the year the babies’ ashes were buried without the knowledge of their 
parents. Today, angry and grieving relatives described the move as a insult and an act of callousness.

A series of years about 12 feet apart and dating back to 1982 have been painted on the grass, identifying the final resting place of scores of children.

The scandal was only revealed by the Evening News after bereavement charity Sands Lothians uncovered evidence parents were being denied the ashes of their infants and babies after they were cremated at the council-run facility. Questions have now been asked as to why the council have not roped the area off or acted with greater sensitivity once the scandal broke.

The News has spoken to parents who have gone to Mortonhall to see for themselves where ashes were buried, only to find luminous paint where their loved ones are placed.

Scott Ewens, 40, whose daughter was cremated ten years ago and whose ashes are believed to be buried there, said he was “horrified” to see the “tacky” green paint being used to signpost the gravesite.

“It’s just so disrespectful,” said the father-of-three. “It is very impersonal and we’re not happy that there’s spray-paint and small pegs stuck in the ground. There is no indication of what it is.

“If Mortonhall wanted to tell people where the ashes were buried they could have done it in a more tactful way. Is this suppose to appease parents or relive pressure on them?”

Another parent Lindsay Robb, 25, whose baby Jack was cremated in January, said 
she was “disgusted” with the way the gravesite had been delineated. “These are our babies in there and not just numbers in date order,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing you would have expected to happen about 45 years ago – not today.

“It’s very insensitive to the parents of babies who have already learned awful news about Mortonhall Crematorium this week.”

And pensioner George Reid, 65, who used the crematorium for the funeral of his three-month-old son in 1970, said: “Someone spray-painting a couple of plots and saying that’s 1970 and that’s 1980, there’s something not right there.

“I’m angry about it. I’m very disgusted that the authorities can do something like that.”

Mark Lazarowicz, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, described the Mortonhall scandal as “deeply shocking” and said the way ashes were treated was “totally disrespectful”.

He added: “The spray-
painting is the final insult on top of all the other things that have happened. It’s simply awful – that should never have happened and I am actually lost for words as to how anyone could have thought this was the correct way of dealing with the babies’ ashes.

Environment convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said the spray-painting of the gravesite was a “temporary measure” until a more “appropriate” way to mark the site was found. I have instructed a full investigation into the historic practices at the crematorium which I hope will establish the facts of this tragic situation. We will continue to work with Sands to help those families affected.”

Counselling is necessary

A UK bereavement specialist says a free counselling service and a public memorial would be the best means for Edinburgh City Council to manage the hurt felt by families affected by the Mortonhall scandal.

Graham Price, founder of UK development and psychology service Abicord, said the council had an obligation to offer professional counselling on the grounds that parents had been lied to by crematorium staff. He said: “In this case, the grief will be mixed with anger about the fact that they’ve been misled and that will make it potentially a little more difficult to grieve.

“Those families may find they need or want, or deserve, some counselling to help them deal with whatever they’re feeling.”

Mr Price predicted only a small percentage would take up the offer of counselling, but stressed it needed to be made. He also supported the council’s moves in setting up a dedicated helpline.