Leaders: Consideration for baby ashes parents

IT IS hard to contemplate the grief suffered by parents whose children were cremated at Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh in such a grossly insensitive manner and who were repeatedly told an untruth, that no ashes were left to be placed in a dignified and final resting place.

A report found Mortonhall was a slapdash culture that allowed systemic failings to persist for decades. Picture: Greg Macvean
A report found Mortonhall was a slapdash culture that allowed systemic failings to persist for decades. Picture: Greg Macvean

It is even more appalling to contemplate the possibility that this unacceptable approach may have been in place elsewhere in Scotland.

Hard on the heels of the recommendations in Dame Elish Angiolini’s report came a statement from Neil Cooney, a senior Aberdeen councillor, promising a review of the way cremations of babies are handled. Until now, the city authorities have maintained that the burners in place at Hazlehead left no ashes. Clearly, that now needs to be reviewed. Dame Elish makes clear that any crematorium that cannot guarantee ashes to return to bereaved families should stop cremating babies. Her report has now been referred to the police for further investigation and a working group has been set up to act on its recommendations.

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Her report is damning. Parents affected by the scandal had not been told that ashes were left after their babies were cremated because it would have been “too distressing”. Dame Elish described the practice as a “great tragedy” that left some parents facing a “lifetime of uncertainty”.

She found Mortonhall was a slapdash culture that allowed systemic failings to persist for decades. That culture was based on practices established by members of staff over many years, which allowed them to run the crematorium in their own way with apparently little consideration for the sensitivities surrounding the cremation of children and the distress of bereaved parents. The clear impression left was that this was an establishment in which the chief consideration appeared to be the convenience of staff, and that this insensitivity was allowed to persist with little by way of oversight by the city authorities or accountability to parents. “Serious failings” barely begins to describe it.

In these circumstances, it is wholly right that parents of the infants involved in the baby ashes scandal are to receive funding from the Scottish Government for counselling and that, as First Minister Alex Salmond announced in Holyrood yesterday, an extra £100,000 would be made available to help these families.

Meanwhile, it is to be welcomed that inquiries are extended to other crematoria in Scotland. Former high court judge Lord Bonomy has chaired the Infant Cremation Commission, which will recommend changes to the law to prevent a similar scandal happening again and the decision on whether to hold a public inquiry will follow his reporting. Meanwhile, however, it must be welcomed that Mr Salmond has pledged to implement all of Dame Elish’s recommendations. At last grieving parents see authorities now acting in a considerate and responsible way.

The unkindest cut

WHAT’S in a name? Not much, if we are all equal before the law. But quite a lot if your name happens to be Alexander Cameron QC – Prime Minister David Cameron’s brother.

Yesterday, Judge Anthony Leonard halted a serious fraud trial at Southwark Crown Court after the defendants claimed that they could not get adequate representation because of cuts to legal aid.

The dispute has been festering for months and this latest case may not have attracted the attention that it did but for the fact that the Prime Minister’s brother worked free of charge on the bid to halt proceedings.

Many barristers in England and Wales are refusing to take on complex cases because of 30 per cent cuts to their fees. Outside the court, one of the defendants’ lawyers, solicitor Philip Smith, said the involvement of Alexander Cameron had been “absolutely pivotal”.

But for his involvement, the complex case, brought by the Financial Conduct Authority, this dispute might have gone completely under the radar. The Prime Minister sought to dismiss the matter yesterday as purely a legal affair. But this is also a piquant family contretemps that could have come straight from the pages of an Anthony Trollope novel.

The family link will ensure the plight of the QCs receives attention it might not otherwise have commanded. But whether it will evoke much sympathy is moot.

The Ministry of Justice argues that, even after the savings, a QC could expect to receive around £100,000 for working on a case like this. An extra 30 per cent would have brought a fee close to the salary of… a Prime Minister.