SENSITIVE documents linked to the babies’ ashes scandal at Mortonhall Crematorium have been stolen in a raid on offices of the bereavement charity which exposed the malpractice.
Thieves stole a laptop containing the personal details of families affected by the controversy unearthed in December by Sands Lothian in which the ashes of new and stillborn babies were cremated and later buried without parents’ knowledge.
Vital e-mails circulated between key figures in the subsequent inquiry were also on the computer.
The laptop, which is not thought to have been encrypted, was the only item taken, alongside a box of keys.
Staff arrived at the charity HQ in Craiglockhart Leisure Centre, in Colinton Road, yesterday morning to find papers strewn across a desk and the notebook computer missing.
Dorothy Maitland, Sands Lothian operations manager, said the theft could cost the charity in excess of £3,000 – but insisted she was most anxious about the lost data.
“There was a TV, a collection can with money in it, a franking machine and a bottle of wine they could have taken but they seem to have just gone for the laptop and a key safe,” she said.
“It’s very worrying. I don’t know if they came in specifically for the laptop but the whole thing doesn’t make sense and is very strange.”
Ms Maitland said records of some confidential parents’ complaints against Mortonhall were contained in the laptop but the charity’s full client database had been stored elsewhere.
She said: “It’s a body blow for us and apart from anything else it makes you feel sick that someone has come in to our office,” she said. “The laptop has a lot of information on it that I will need and is sensitive.
“I’m concerned it’s been done by someone who has been after my laptop but I’m just hoping and praying that it is opportunistic.
“With all the publicity about this scandal going on you just don’t know.”
There are fears losses from the raid may not be recouped through insurance, as the intruders managed to access the premises without breaking in.
“It has totally disabled the office when we should be helping bereaved parents – it’s disgusting,” said Ms Maitland. “Everyone’s just concerned and gutted because of the kind of organisation we are, you just don’t expect something like this.”
Sands Lothian has previously discussed moving into secure offices at the leisure centre which will now take place on April 1.
The theft comes just weeks after the independent probe into cremation practices was launched at Mortonhall and across the country. The Scottish Government is also reviewing laws surrounding cremations, some of which are 100 years old.
Campaigners believe the scandal of burying the cremated remains of babies in a mass grave without parents being informed had been going on for about 45 years. The practice ended in 2011.
A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said: “We can confirm that police are investigating a theft from an office premises in Colinton Road that happened over the weekend.
“Anyone with any information that can assist our enquiries should contact Lothian and Borders Police on 0131-311 3131, or alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”
LOW BLOW AT A CRUCIAL TIME
NEWS of the theft at Sands Lothian HQ could not come at a worse time for the bereavement charity which has seen demand for its services soar since the crematorium allegations broke.
But while the charity’s workload has rocketed, its resources have fallen because staff and volunteers were too busy coping with the scandal to do any fund-raising.
Last month, the News told how the Scottish Government had pledged £30,000 funding to the charity to help in its work counselling and befriending the affected families.
It is set to receive the one-off grant to help fund its £95,000-a-year running costs.
Sands Lothian has ten “befrienders” and two qualified counsellors.