Mortonhall baby ashes report to be censored

Willie Reid says any redactions will 'enhance the lack of trust' in the council. Picture: Neil Hanna

Willie Reid says any redactions will 'enhance the lack of trust' in the council. Picture: Neil Hanna

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AN independent report into the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal will be censored to protect the council from legal challenges, it has emerged.

Council chiefs and legal advisors will redact elements of the long-awaited dossier – drafted by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini – to avoid breaching data protection laws and inadvertently exposing a family who may wish to remain anonymous.

But campaigners have condemned planned redactions, saying all families affected by the scandal have already been issued with personal identification numbers to prevent exposure. And they warned that any suppression of information would undermine their faith in the inquiry.

The news comes as solicitors representing many families affected by the scandal claimed there had been a “huge breach of trust” after the council refused to immediately publish the 600-page document.

Hundreds of parents are believed to have been denied access to the ashes of cremated children, which were instead buried in a garden of remembrance. It is thought the practice was carried out from 1967 until 2011 when it was exposed following a News investigation.

The report was commissioned in January 2013 and is said to be “extremely detailed”. It will be delivered to more than 200 families by courier on Wednesday.

Today, council leader Andrew Burns said there was a “duty of care” to ensure nothing was published that could open the authority to “future litigation and issues of challenge.” He said: “We are doing what we can to ensure that any redactions are minimised.

“I don’t want to be under the accusation that we are trying to cover up anything that is in the report. I want to be able to present this, as much as possible, as a complete report in its totality. But we have got to be legally careful.

“It’s not just about protecting the legal position of the local authority, we have got to make sure that we don’t inadvertently expose a family to a situation that they don’t want to be in because they have suffered enough heartache.”

But campaigner Willie Reid, chairman of the Mortonhall Ashes Action Committee, claims he was given personal assurances from Dame Elish Angiolini that no family names would be included in the long-awaited report. Each parent, he said, had been allocated a personal identification number to protect their identity.

He said: “Any redaction will enhance the lack of trust we already have in the council. It will support our call for a full public inquiry because we have no idea what they will redact.”

And Patrick McGuire, partner at Thompsons Solicitors who are representing many of the families, added: “The families have already been given identification numbers and I find it impossible to believe that the former Lord Advocate will have drafted the report in a way that discloses personal data. I therefore find the claim from Edinburgh City Council that they’re delaying the publication to protect the families wholly lacks credibility.”