The establishment of a national investigation team to look into cases across Scotland came as ministers accepted in full all 64 recommendations of an inquiry into child cremation chaired by Lord Bonomy.
Lord Bonomy’s report followed revelations that Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh had secretly buried the ashes of hundreds of babies for decades telling families there were no remains.
In a statement to MSPs, public health minister Michael Matheson said the team would be led by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, whose report on Mortonhall Crematorium was published last month.
All parents who have been left with unanswered questions about the cremation of their babies will be able to have their case examined.
Mr Matheson said: “Parents can be reassured every step will be taken in order to find out what happened to their babies.”
“Dame Elish and her team will be able to look at every document and every record, they will interview every concerned family and will expect to speak to any officials or staff members who may hold information.”
He said the team would examine both local authority and private crematoria, as well as the NHS and funeral directors.
Mr Matheson said: “Parents can, from today, notify us if they wish their case to be investigated. They can do this by completing a simple form which is available on the Scottish Government website, or which can be sent to them by post.”
He said a special investigation would also be launched by Dame Elish into Hazlehead Crematorium in Aberdeen following claims last week that babies had been cremated with adults.
The minister said it was “very disappointing” that other local authorities had not followed Edinburgh City Council’s lead in launching independent investigations into their crematoria.
The Infant Cremation Commission was established more than a year ago to look at the practice of infant cremation in Scotland and how ashes are disposed of. Lord Bonomy’s recommendations included an urgent review of cremation practices, a statutory definition of ashes and regulation of cremation of babies of less than 24 weeks gestation.
Yesterday Mr Matheson said a consultation would be launched by the end of the year on new legislation governing crematoria, since current laws were “not fit for purpose”.
He added that all crematoria should have complied with these new regulations by the time the laws came into force.
A ministerial-led committee is also to be established to help implement other recommendations in the report.
Mr Matheson said affected parents would be key members of the committee, which is expected to hold its first meeting this summer.
The committee will develop a new code of practice for all those involved in the cremation practice, and look at options for a national memorial dedicated to babies whose ashes were mishandled or mismanaged.
Mr Matheson also said crematoria inspectors would be created “as quickly as possible”, with inspections to be extended to the funeral industry.
But he stressed: “Sadly some parents will never know what happened to their children, but I hope that those parents will recognise that we will do all that we can for them to get the answers that are available.
“I hope all parents will recognise the important legacy of the last eighteen months is that this will never be able to happen again.”
Last night one of the first parents to have raised concerns over Mortonhall welcomed the moves.
Dorothy Maitland, whose nine-day-old daughter Kaelen was cremated there, said: “I think this is very positive, very good, I don’t think we could ask for any more.
“I know that some parents do feel that there is a need for a public inquiry, but personally I don’t think so.
“Most of the Mortonhall parents don’t feel the need for a public inquiry. There’s no more they can tell us.”
Linsay Bonar, whose three-day-old son Lachlan was cremated at Daldowie Crematorium in Glasgow, said: “I couldn’t be any happier. This is exactly what we wanted.
“All parents deserve an answer, all families deserve an answer and that’s what we’re going to get out of this investigation.
“Dame Elish has a proven track record in everything that she’s going to be looking into, so we’re absolutely thrilled.
“I don’t think a door should be closed on a public inquiry because we don’t know what answers we’re going to get, but I certainly feel that they [Scottish Government] are doing everything in their power to accommodate the parents.
“Even our lawyers say only a handful of parents will get answers with a public inquiry, so individual inquiries is definitely the way to go.”
Labour health spokesman Neil Findlay said: “I welcome the recommendations in today’s report and hope their implementation will prevent any future repeat of the pain and heartbreak that families in Scotland have had to endure.
“We must ensure that the families are of the upmost priority in these cases and that they are given as much information as possible to make an informed decision.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “The baby ashes issue was a personal tragedy for hundreds of families and is a national scandal.
“The recommendations today from Lord Bonomy take us much closer to ensuring this never happens again.
“Dame Elish Angiolini should be commended for the work she carried out in relation to Mortonhall, and I hope she’s able to bring her forensic capabilities to bear in the national investigation.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume said: “It is disappointing some organisations or local authorities implicated have not taken matters into their own hands after first learning of concerns about some crematoria practice many months ago.
“The implementation of Lord Bonomy’s recommendations require the whole-hearted committed of local authorities, government ministers and all agencies involved.”
Alan Slater, chief executive of the National Association of Funeral Directors, said: “We support any move that will ensure there is clarity and consistency of approach, and welcome the fact that what constitutes ‘remains’ in the case of infant cremation will now be enshrined in law.
“Funeral Directors pass on information to families they receive from experts at crematoria in good faith, and this will prevent personal interpretation and opinion being conveyed to us as fact.”
“We await with interest more details about the role and remit of the independent inspector and how we can support this new position.”
THE KEY POINTS
• New statutory definition of “ashes”: “All that is left in the cremator at the end of the cremation process and following the removal of any metal.”
• Cremation authorities should review their practices “immediately” to ensure they are sticking to the definition.
• Statutory regulation of the cremation of babies of less than 24 weeks gestation.
• Legislation should set out who can apply for cremation.
• In devising policy and making arrangements for cremations, “the baby and the interests of the family should be the central focus of attention”.
• Crematoria where ashes are not always recovered should learn from those where ashes are recovered regularly.
• Cremation of each infant should be recorded in a register, including whether the ashes were scattered or buried.
• National committee with responsibility for baby and infant cremations to be established.
• Independent inspector to monitor standards at crematoria
Inquiries and apologies after scandal was uncovered
THE baby ashes scandal started with revelations about Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh, but led to investigations in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Fife.
In December 2012, it emerged that cremation of infants in the capital had produced remains which parents were not being told about. The city council then commissioned an independent investigation from former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini.
Her report, published last month, found systematic failings in the running of the crematorium led to parents being told there were no ashes left to scatter. Dame Elish said there was “extensive” mixing of babies’ remains with those of adults, and it was likely ashes of babies had been “hoovered up” during cleaning of flues and ended up interred in a piece of land next to a skip.
Yesterday’s report by Lord Bonomy on the Scotland-wide picture said at Hazlehead Crematorium in Aberdeen, no ashes had been returned to relatives for any of the 24 cremations of babies since 2008. An investigation is under way here.
The Bonomy report also said Glasgow City Council issued an apology last year after a review found “there had been a small number of cases where ashes had been dispersed without the knowledge, or against the wishes, of parents”.