Mortonhall baby ashes probe calls for law change

The commission says the events at Mortonhall show that guidance must be straightforward. Picture: Toby Williams

The commission says the events at Mortonhall show that guidance must be straightforward. Picture: Toby Williams

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Scottish law is set to be changed to bring in standard procedures for recording the cremation of a baby in the wake of the Mortonhall ashes scandal.

Advice given to grieving parents would also be standardised across Scotland to ensure everyone is treated fairly, under initial recommendations published by a commission set up by the Scottish Government in response to the outrage over the practices at Mortonhall Crematorium.

The body’s members have agreed standard procedures must be introduced when it comes to the cremation advice given to grieving parents, and that records should be kept of all infant cremations.

The plans come almost a year after the Evening News revealed that ashes of stillborn and premature babies were being buried in Mortonhall’s garden of remembrance without parents’ knowledge.

The Infant Cremation Commission led by Lord Bonomy – a former high court judge – was formed in the wake of the ashes scandal at the Edinburgh council crematorium.

The inquiry has been charged with proposing changes to the law to guarantee a similar scandal could never happen again.

Commission members agreed that all crematoria should keep a record of every cremation.

A mandatory register that would include the processing of pre-24-week foetuses would be enshrined in legislation. Procedures have traditionally varied at crematoria, with different practices across
Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

Bereaved parents would also be given more time to consider their options in terms of either cremating or burying a deceased baby under other recommendations discussed by the commission.

Willie Reid, chairman of the Mortonhall Ashes Action Committee (MAAC), welcomed the commission’s initial suggestions, saying: “Standardisation for the recording of cremations has to be a positive sign. It means everyone throughout the whole of Scotland has to adhere to the same system.

“With the records for babies under 24 weeks, that gives those parents a bit more comfort. There has been no registration of birth and no registration of death for those babies, so why at that point would there be registration for cremation? That can only be welcomed for those parents.”

Sands Lothian operations manager Dorothy Maitland, left, who helped break the revelations, could not be reached for comment.

Lord Bonomy has been in regular contact with Dame Elish Angiolini, who is completing a separate investigation into the scandal. Her findings are due out in January and are expected to address gaps in regulation, such as the lack of a definition for the term “ashes”.

The commission’s final report will not be published until Dame Elish’s findings are out.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the delay was because the commission wanted to “learn from the findings of the Mortonhall investigation”, but said work was otherwise
“progressing well”.

Only the minutes from the commission’s August meeting have so far been published.

Mr Reid, who will join affected parents in a separate meeting with Lord Bonomy early next month, questioned why the commission’s debate had been “shrouded in secrecy”.

MAAC had wanted at least one parent to sit on the commission, but the request was overturned. Ms Maitland was among those not invited to be part of the commission.

MEMORIAL WOULD GIVE FOCUS

CREATING a national memorial for those left devastated by the mishandling of babies’ ashes across Scotland has been supported by commission members.

Minutes from the August meeting show panel members felt a memorial could “provide a place for bereaved parents to grieve and remember their child”.

The benefits of local memorials, including one for bereaved parents devastated by the Mortonhall Crematorium scandal, have also been discussed. The concept of a memorial has previously sparked mixed views from affected parents, with some viewing it as too soon to erect a national tribute.