Emotional day as baby memorial garden opens

Dorothy Maitland looks at the memorial for her daughter. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Dorothy Maitland looks at the memorial for her daughter. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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“IN my dreams you are alive and well, precious child, ­precious child...”

As Dorothy Maitland spoke, the sun broke out from behind clouds while starlings whirled in the sky, far above the stone circle where the solemn crowd stood in silence. Speaking the lyrics of Karen Taylor Good’s song, her words touched every guest invited to the opening of the Mortonhall Memorial Garden yesterday morning.

The garden, the culmination of 18 months of planning and design, has, Dorothy said, “finally given a place to the babies whose ashes were so wrongly discarded”.

She said: “For some people it may bring a sense of closure, and although for others a memorial is not enough, I hope that when parents see it they will feel they do want their child to be part of it.

“I know that I never wanted to have anything to do with Mortonhall again after discovering what had happened, but today I’m glad I changed my mind and Kaelen’s name is inscribed on the garden wall.”

The memorial garden was opened almost three years to the day since the scandal of Mortonhall was first revealed.

For decades managers had told grieving parents of babies that there were no ashes after cremation – but instead they were dumping them in unmarked ground.

An inquiry by Dame Elish Angiolini later discovered that ashes were always recoverable, and that some had even been mixed with adult cremations.

Adhering to one of the 22 recommendations in her report, a working party was established to create a memorial to the babies. Yesterday it finally opened.

Silver-coloured plaques run around a rough-hewn stone wall inscribed with the names of and messages to 149 children whose ashes were never given to their parents; the dates range from the 1960s to the 2000s.

The plaques are also engraved with flowers and dragonflies and in the centre of the circular garden, surrounded by plants and the occasional wrought-iron dragonfly, sits a slate sphere from which trickles the soothing sound of water.

Dorothy – formerly the operation manager of bereavement charity Sands Lothian, which uncovered the scandal – lost her daughter Kaelen,who was a twin, in 1986.

She said: “I had seen the plans for the garden but I wasn’t aware how much impact it would have. It is a beautiful, tranquil place. I think it is important to have a memorial.

“I know some parents will always find it difficult to go to Mortonhall, that for many right now a memorial is no comfort – and that is how I felt until very recently, though now I think I would have regretted it if Kaelen’s name wasn’t there. So I hope that in time, when they heal a bit more they will be able to visit the garden and receive comfort from it.”

She added: “It means so much to many parents to have somewhere where they can go ... that shows to everyone that each of these babies matter. Your baby is always in your heart no matter what but to have a place like this where you can sit and see their name, it means an awful lot.”

The memorial was created by city company Green Edge. Garden designer Becky Govier worked with the parents to produce the garden they wanted.

She said: “I wanted to create a space and garden they would feel comfortable in. The circular shape feels like two large hands that are coming together, embracing and protecting those within.

“I had my son Oliver in July this year while working on this with the parents and it made it all the more poignant as I had real challenges through my pregnancy.”

She added: “It was a real collaborative process, it unites the wishes of parents for a contemplative space with a water feature. I hope we have created a garden that gives some comfort to the parents.”

The opening was attended by members of the working group, including parents and council officials as well as Dame Elish and Dame Sue Bruce, former council chief executive.

Ms Bruce said: “This has been a very difficult process for so many people over the past three years, so I want to acknowledge my personal appreciation of the support and feedback from parents in helping choose such a fitting memorial.

“The design reflects their wishes for a garden that will provide a private and peaceful place for personal contemplation and reflection.”

Current chief executive Andrew Kerr said: “The work of the Mortonhall Multi-Agency Working Group will continue so nothing like this can happen again. The action plan produced last year has now been fully implemented..”

A second memorial is being planned for Princes Street Gardens for parents who did not want to return to Mortonhall.

newsen@edinburghnews.com