Mortonhall Ashes: Parents welcome council action

Lord Provost Donald Wilson leads the minute's silence. Pic: Toby Williams
Lord Provost Donald Wilson leads the minute's silence. Pic: Toby Williams
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parents have opened their hearts about the trauma of the Mortonhall ashes scandal as the city council met to approve an action plan to ensure it can never happen again.

Relatives were given the opportunity to speak about their experience and give their reaction to the official investigations and reports into what happened at Mortonhall.

A candle was lit at the beginning of the special meeting accompanied by a minute’s silence, ­solemnly presided over by the Lord Provost, Donald Wilson.

The meeting heard that the city council had been approached for advice on handling a similar investigation by a local authority in England.

It is 18 months now since the Evening News first revealed how parents were told the ­cremation of their infants would leave no ashes to ­scatter, while in fact remains were secretly buried in the crematorium grounds.

Around 20 parents gathered for yesterday’s full council meeting, where the action plan drawn up in the wake of Dame Elish Angiolini’s damning report was unanimously approved.

The 22 recommendations in the action plan call for changes to Scottish legislation, improved staff training and more robust record-keeping.

Willie Reid, the chairman of the Mortonhall Ashes Action Committee whose daughter Donna was cremated at Mortonhall in 1988, told the meeting: “Grief is a very hard thing.

“To go through that over the loss of a baby and then, after time, get through it carrying on your life, for this to come back is doubly hard. Some parents wish to have a public inquiry to ensure those responsible for this are brought into a court of law of some description and give evidence under oath.”

He praised Dorothy ­Maitland of Sands Lothian, a charity which counsels parents who have lost a child through a stillbirth or neonatal death, for first revealing the scandal in December 2012.

Council chief executive Sue Bruce pledged there would be “a memorial to the children” whose ashes were disposed of by staff after parents were told there were no remains.

Mrs Bruce said that a working group - made up of parents and officials from the council, NHS Lothian and Scottish Governemnt - had a “practical and pragmatic voice” and would continue to meet for the next year. Parents – some of whom had chosen to sit in an adjacent room to watch the meeting on a screen rather than congregate in the chambers – gathered afterwards to reflect.

Council and NHS Lothian chaplains were on hand to support them, several of whom were visibly upset. One parent, who asked not to be named, said she could never fully get closure from the scandal – but that the council’s approach to it had restored her faith in the authority.

The 42-year-old, who lost her baby 15 years ago, said: “There’s no closure from our point of view. But going forward, we know that nothing like this will happen again. It’s always going to be there, it’s there with you all your life.” She added: “I had lost faith in the council for a while but it has been restored.”

kaye.nicolson@edinburghnews.com