Mortonhall Scandal: Parents speak about son’s death and demand to know where he is

A MOTHER whose baby son was cremated at Mortonhall 29 years ago today demanded to know the location of his ashes.

Lesley Redpath, 59, called the Evening News after reading of the shocking scandal at the council-run crematorium.

And for the first time since baby Michael died of a diaphramatic hernia, she has spoken publicly of her grief – and her anger at the realisation that his ashes could well be buried in an unmarked mass grave.

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The retired therapeutic radiographer, who worked with cancer sufferers for 40 years, said: “Since 1984 we’ve gone to Mortonhall on June 10 every year and read the inscription to Michael in the book of remembrance, thinking that is the only remembrance there is of him and I come away from there feeling more relaxed. But now we’re thinking his ashes might be there, too. We are completely shocked by this.

“I’ve worked in oncology for 40 years and you harden yourself to things, but this has left me feeling incredibly emotional. My husband, Tony, has also been very affected. We’ve never really told anyone except very close family and friends about Michael, but this has brought everything back.

“Michael died of a diaphramatic hernia, when they X-rayed him they discovered he had no lung and his abdominal cavity was open. He only lived for a couple of hours.

“Back then there was nothing they could do, although I believe they can successfully operate nowadays.”

Lesley, of Blackhall, added: “I remember when the undertaker told us that we wouldn’t get any ashes because it was a baby’s cremation I thought it was weird, but because you’re in such a state you don’t really think straight about anything.

“Now I just feel incredibly stupid – of course, there would be ashes.

“I’m feeling very angry with him and with the crematorium. If he had said we would get ashes if we’d gone to Seafield or Warriston then we would have done that.

“It’s the lies and deceit that I can’t understand. I would have loved to have received his ashes and scatter them in my garden.”

Lesley and Tony, who went on to have two more children, said they don’t generally believe in suing, but that they might well consider it now and give any potential proceeds to Sands Lothians.

“I have never talked to anyone about Michael,” added Lesley. “I didn’t go to Sands, I just got on with it. But now I want to know where he is and how I can find that out. This has really got to me. Someone, somewhere will have to account for this.”

Dorothy Maitland, who discovered the missing ashes of her daughter Kaelen are buried in a box in the grounds, is leading the charity campaign by Sands Lothians to win answers for parents.

She has spoken of her sense of betrayal now the scandal has come to light.

She said: “I had first gone to Sands Lothians not long after the death of Kaelen, regarding erecting a memorial at the baby remembrance garden. We also asked about donating a book of remembrance for babies. Mortonhall agreed but insisted they paid for it.

“They allowed us to hold our yearly memorial services there and also agreed to allow parents to mark their babies’ little graves in the unmarked common ground with little plaques. I felt we had an excellent relationship with Mortonhall.

“When supporting parents it became apparent that parents who had their baby cremated at Seafield or Warriston were receiving ashes of their babies. I could not understand this as I had been told by the management of Mortonhall that you do not get ashes from a baby.

“I took this up with Mortonhall and was told they were probably being given bits of wood in a box as there are no ashes from a baby. I had no reason to think I was being lied to. I was actually doubting Seafield and Warriston. It is something that bothered me for many years.”

When Sands Lothians – a charity which counsels parents who have lost a child through a stillbirth or neonatal death – asked a writer to interview staff at all three crematoriums to see what their policies and procedures are regarding baby cremations, agonising questions were thrown up for Dorothy.

She added: “She was appalled when she was told that Seafield had been giving ashes for over 17 years. I needed to take this up again with the management of Mortonhall and I was very defensive of them as I believed they had been telling me the truth.

“I met with the new manager who told me when he came into post he changed procedures so that as many ashes could be collected as possible. He said there were records of baby ashes that had been collected in the past.

“I asked him to check for my daughter’s ashes and he told me they had been interred in the garden of remembrance. I could not believe this and felt angry. I feel I have let my baby down and also bereaved parents that I have been supporting.”


CHARLES Cowling, of The Good Funeral Guide, said: “The ashes yielded by cremation are almost entirely bone fragments. The bones of newborn babies and of any foetus over 24 weeks are soft and there may be very little residue after cremation. However, there will always be some ashes remaining.

“Forty-five years ago, cremators were hotter and more turbulent, and there were no ashes after the cremation of a baby. Parents were advised of this. Mortonhall seems to have continued to offer this advice even after the installation of new equipment.

“Mortonhall’s culpability in lying to bereaved parents dates from the installation of new equipment. Generally, crematoria are aware of the emotional needs of bereaved parents and do all in their power to retrieve some ash.”

‘I was in such a state, I wasn’t thinking straight’

GIVING birth to her stillborn daughter on Christmas Eve in 2007 was so traumatic for Ros Lowrie that when she and her partner Paddy Burns held the funeral at Mortonhall Crematorium they decided not to ask for the ashes.

“I was in such a state at the time I wasn’t thinking straight,” the 44-year-old from East Linton said yesterday. “With hindsight now I would have liked them, but I’m not in the situation of other parents who did ask for them and were told there were none.

“What I was told by the crematorium though was that they would be ‘put with the others’. I naively thought that meant scattered in the Rose Garden where babies are buried at Mortonhall – and where we put up a plaque to Eve. But now I want to know where they are.”

Ros, who volunteers with Sands, e-mailed Mortonhall as soon as the scandal of the babies’ ashes broke. She said: “I got a phone call back on Tuesday telling me that her cremation didn’t produce any ashes. There isn’t a record.

“How can a 4lb baby with a coffin not produce any ashes, when other babies’ ashes were buried? I’ve asked for further clarification.

“I expected her to be in Mortonhall somewhere but now it seems she’s nowhere. My thought is was she swept up and put in the bin or was she in with the next person and now sitting with granny in someone’s urn? There had to be something of her.

“I’ve heard stories about it being so hot there’s nothing left, or coolers being on and ashes being blown away, but that’s nonsense as obviously some babies had their ashes buried.

“It seems to me that if your baby was stillborn they just got rid of the ashes and only if they lived for a while were they buried.”

She added: “It also appears there are no records at the crematorium for stillborn babies. If they lived for a while and were cremated they got a cremation number so they can find out what happened to the ashes, but because Eve wasn’t alive there’s no number for her.

“Yet she was cremated at a time when they were using computers, it wasn’t all being done on the back of a fag packet. There should be a record of her cremation. So now I’m wondering was she even cremated at all?

“There are so many unanswered questions. The whole thing is bizarre. It’s terrible.”

Leading the news

THE revelations about babies’ ashes from Mortonhall being dumped in a mass unmarked grave rather than handed to their grieving parents has shot to the top of the Scottish news agenda.

After it appeared in the Evening News yesterday, the story led the BBC news in Scotland ahead of George Osborne’s Autumn Statement.STV and local radio stations also covered it.

And it featured prominently in all the morning papers today, including the front pages of the Scottish Sun and the Scottish Daily Express.

The issue was expected to be raised at First Minister’s Questions today.